Piano Concerto No.1
Piano Concerto No.2
Piano Concerto No.3
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Recorded 9 & 10 December 2009 (concertos 1 & 3) and 1 April 2010 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10610
Duration: 73 minutes
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Chandos have certainly hit it off. Already there is the rewarding (and award-winning) discs of Debussy’s piano music, this Bartók release has arrived in September 2010 and will be swiftly followed by Ravel’s piano concertos coupled with Debussy’s Fantaisie, then the Piano Concerto of Gabriel Pierné (who conducted the premiere in 1910 of Stravinsky’s The Firebird), and no doubt the Haydn sonatas series will be ongoing. There is also the prospect of a complete Beethoven sonata cycle from Bavouzet.
Bavouzet certainly has the measure of Bartók’s three piano concertos and enjoys the close attention of Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic, as observed by a vivid, wide-ranging and crisp recording enjoying natural perspectives. The rhythmic and punchy First Piano Concerto (1927, first conducted by Furtwängler with the composer as soloist) enjoys a bracing outing, one not without subtleties of melody and phrasing, as well as flexibility of pulse, a meaningful interweaving of piano and orchestra (the finale is uncommonly well detailed, the piccolo shriek at 6’09” for example), and a thrust that is compelling, even in the quicker-than-usual middle movement, an eerie march that here retains its hallucinatory qualities.
The Second Piano Concerto could have enjoyed a greater initial summons from the soloist, but the performance takes an almost-immediate head of steam The scoring of the first movement is without strings; woodwinds, brass and percussion emerge from a natural positioning despite the absence (in every sense) of the bowed instruments. There is nothing studio-bound about this performance, caution thrown to the winds, but not at the expense of Bartók’s all-important precision. Just occasionally, when a folk-like tune emerges one would have liked Bavouzet to caress it a little more, just like Géza Anda used to (his recordings for DG of these concertos with Ferenc Fricsay are a staple of the Bartók discography; similarly, in the first two concertos, there is Zoltán Kocsis with György Lehel conducting on Hungaroton). The strings are first heard in their mystical incantations to open the slow second movement, its spectral interlude here charged in momentum and snappily delineated in terms of ensemble (without access to a score, the timbre of the trumpets between 7’19-7’24 is a surprise, maybe Noseda opted for a different type of mute to the norm?). The finale, as is so much of the fast music in these performances, is taken to the edge of playability but not accuracy (a tighter, more-cutting bass drum sound would have been welcome though), the expressions of sadness in the woodwind solos just before the elating coda is made very poignant.
With the gentler world of the Third Piano Concerto (1945), a bequest by the dying composer to his pianist-wife, Bavouzet and his partners find an edge to the first movement for all their classically lucid performance, and save their most heartfelt expression for the religiosity of the slow movement (Bavouzet’s exposition of the piano’s chorale theme is especially touching) itself interrupted by the fire-flies of some typically-Bartókian ‘night music’ before a searing climax (the gong stroke at 9’04” is impressively integrated as well as being a ‘solo’). The finale tumbles with life, at odds with the composer’s circumstances, to an emphatic conclusion (including the bass drum stroke on the final chord that now seems added to the score, it is also present on Hélène Grimaud’s DG version under Boulez), which completes a very distinguished release, one that is a mandatory to all admirers of this music and to the growing army of Bavouzet’s fans.