Jean-Efflam Bavouzet at Wigmore Hall – Liszt & Debussy

Invocation [original version]
Images oubliées; Images – Book I; L’Isle joyeuse
Grosses Konzertsolo

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 28 May, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. ©J Henry-FairJean-Efflam Bavouzet began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall with the original, shorter version of Invocation, completed by Liszt in 1847 – five years before he published a much longer revision. Even at just over three minutes, however, this piece makes an impact, with an orchestral sound dominated by tremolandos in octaves to accompany the descending bass line – also in octaves. Despite copious use of the sustaining pedal Bavouzet made sense of this powerful utterance, bringing out the melodic particulars against the wall of sound. Bavouzet’s power at the keyboard was subtly wrought, so that even the heaviest fortissimo had a clean sound, avoiding the trap of making Liszt sound bombastic at the expense of content. From this he led straight into Debussy’s Images oubliées, a transition that was surprisingly successful.

The exhaustive shading was significant in the first of the three pieces, while ‘Sarabande’ – later to appear in revised form as the central movement of Pour Le Piano – quite fast and relatively full-bodied, yet yielding probing insights particularly in its central section. Towards the end of the finale, Bavouzet’s tracing of the theme with the left-hand was sublime and in minute detail. Book I of Images was similarly excellent, with an exquisite ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ followed by a solemn ‘Hommage à Rameau’, Debussy looking back farther than the Baroque period, drawing on Gregorian Chant. Finally, the closely clustered notes of ‘Mouvement’ hung together like a swarm of bees, around which the carefully poised octaves negotiated a path.L’Isle joyeuse was next, the ghosted outlines of a habanera giving way to some technically dazzling playing, colourful and richly expressive.

Liszt’s Grosses Konzertsolo provides some very interesting context as a prototype for the B minor Piano Sonata. It was a refreshing change to hear this rather than its oft-performed descendant, and it was brilliantly performed, Bavouzet racing into the opening statements but still using the silences for maximum effect. The huge chorale was imposing as well as clearly defined, the octaves flawless. Perhaps most importantly the structure made sense and with attention to dynamic markings a priority.

Despite the heat of an early summer’s day, Bavouzet remained calm for an affectionately played encore, Liszt’s En rêve, which featured a brilliant riposte to a mobile phone that rang in the final bar. Bavouzet held his ground as he waited for the ring to die away – at least ten seconds – and when the offending object stopped its jarring intervention, the final cadence declared Liszt the winner!

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