Debussy, arr. Bavouzet
Jeux – poème dansé
The Rite of Spring
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet & François-Frédéric Guy (pianos)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 2 July, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Ballet scores are seldom heard at Wigmore Hall, but the two-piano partnership of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and François-Frédéric Guy took the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert audience back to Paris, 1913. Both Jeux and The Rite of Spring were premiered in that year, the former massively overshadowed by the scandal accompanying the latter.
The balance has been restored somewhat since, Jeux recognised as a fascinating and alluring score, full of sleights of hand and subtle brushes of colour, a tapestry of short but keenly relevant musical events. Playing Bavouzet’s well-voiced arrangement of it (recorded by him on Chandos), the duo caught the humid atmospherics of the score immediately, switching between languor and urgency as the mood demanded. At times playful or furtive, they enjoyed an intense rapport, playing especially close attention to levels of expression and dynamics, which helped to compensate for the perhaps inevitable loss of colour from the orchestral version. There was as much colour and shade as one could wish for within the two-piano confines, right up to the playful unison finish, brought off with an innocent smile.
If hearing these reductions of music is akin to viewing television in black and white, The Rite of Spring enjoyed particularly vividness. As one might expect there was much more emphasis on the rhythmic elements of Stravinsky’s score (his own version for two pianos), the crunchy chords of ‘Auguries of Spring’ crisply delivered, its syncopations and missed beats completely in unison. The sforzando applied by Guy to ‘Glorification of the Chosen One’ was striking, while the memorably creepy line normally assigned to the cor anglais in Ritual of the Ancients was beautifully shaped by Bavouzet.
Sudden outbursts of the score were again heightened thanks to vivid dynamic contrasts, while it also proved interesting to hear the percussive attack of the pianos playing music normally assigned to wind or brass. While this lent a brittle, almost metallic edge to the performance, the standard of virtuosity ensured each musical thread could still be clearly heard. A problematic aspect of two-piano music is that the ear can quickly tire of its sonorities, particularly in reductions of orchestral scores. Bavouzet and Guy negated much of this sentiment through the flair and sensitivity of their playing. I urge you to the BBC iPlayer (until 13 July). You may well be surprised at the secrets revealed therein!