Jean-Efflam Bavouzet at Wigmore Hall

Sonata in D, HXVI:24
Hommage à Haydn
Images – Book 2
Menuet sur le nom de Haydn

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 16 March, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This cleverly conceived BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert united two threads – a hommage à Haydn and a chance to compare Debussy and Ravel’s depiction of bells in their piano music.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. ©J Henry-FairHaydn himself was represented by a quirky example of his mature keyboard writing, the D major sonata of 1773 given an effervescence and unpredictability that took it closer to the world of Domenico Scarlatti. This link was emphasised by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s slightly jerky treatment of the first theme and his most appealing voicing in the slow movement, the left-hand drawing back to allow expressive freedom for the aria melody in the right.

In 1909 several Parisian composers, including Dukas, D’Indy, Widor and Hahn, were invited to contribute to celebrations for the centenary of Haydn’s death. Ravel and Debussy also contributed, their relative trifles sufficiently accomplished pieces that stand up well in the context of their piano output. The middle section of Debussy’s Hommage à Haydn was here full of vigour, while Ravel’s graceful Menuet was closer in style to his first work for piano, Menuet Antique’. The clever variations on Haydn’s notated name spun together neatly.

Each composer’s tribute was twinned with a substantial work – in Debussy’s case the second book of Images, given a commanding performance. This left the audience totally infused in the composer’s soundworld, the mottled tones of ‘Cloches à travers les feuilles’ beautifully shaded as if in a trance, while ‘Poissons d’or’ was altogether more animated. Bavouzet succeeded wholeheartedly in evoking the dreamlike nature of the three pieces, the second a vivid evocation of the moon setting over an imagined temple, wonderfully controlled yet allowing plenty of rhythmic freedom.

Ravel’s Miroirs also cast its spell, the listener suddenly jerked back to reality by a remarkably vigorous ‘Alborada del gracioso’, which thundered to its climax without compromising the tone quality. Prior to this ‘Une barque sur l’océan’ evoked the motion of the waves beautifully, while the fuller textures of ‘Noctuelles’ and later ‘La vallée des cloches’ were made abundantly clear. The latter became something of a fantasia, uncannily drawing a parallel with the ‘Aria’ from the Haydn sonata in the freedom given to the right-hand, while Bavouzet painted exquisite pictures with the left.

Continuing with Ravel, Bavouzet gave an already generous programme a sparkling encore with Jeux d’eau, the work with which Ravel gave notice of his maturing style.

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