Philharmonia Orchestra/Ashkenazy – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice & La mer – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Ravel & Falla

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Piano Concerto in G
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
La mer – three symphonic sketches

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 December, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. ©J Henry-FairJean-Efflam Bavouzet offered two works for piano and orchestra – one a concerto, one not – in this very enjoyable Sunday matinee. Even though Vladimir Ashkenazy never played (as far as I know) either the Ravel or the Falla, here was one of the most-renowned of pianists (now retired from playing in public but still recording in the role) conducting. Close-knit performances ensued.

A reduced string section informed the Ravel; a good idea to bring parity with the rest of the ensemble, sometimes inhabiting the jazz world. Bavouzet was effectively playing his Chandos recordings – the Ravel came out a year ago, the Falla is due in February. His assurance was everywhere to be heard, his nonchalance visible to the eye not masking the ear’s receipt of infectious rhythms and soulful expression. Ravel’s outer movements scintillated, and if the central Adagio found Bavouzet just a little lacking in intimacy and somewhat square in his phrasing, there was much tenderness when the orchestra entered.

Unusually, given he still had the Falla to play, Bavouzet offered an encore, ‘La puerta del Vino’ (the third Prélude from Debussy’s Book II), a bridge to Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Bavouzet caught the spirit of the Frenchman’s tipsy habanera, and went on to bring clarity and vitality to Falla’s native nocturnal triptych, warmly accompanied in terms of point, languor and perfume; but, for all the committed and excellent performance, the reiteration of not very interesting material made for an uninspired 25 minutes.

Vladimir Ashkenazy. Photograph: Keith SaundersOrchestral masterpieces framed the concert. Paul Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Disney-Fantasia-Mickey Mouse) was less than meaningful initially, but wit and vividness soon held sway en route to a torrential climax. With La mer, Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia conjured a large, fluffy white rabbit from their collective top hats – sensitive, suggestive and shapely, alive with impulse and delicately placed, sympathetically played incident. For the record, Ashkenazy included the ad lib fanfares (assigned to trumpets) in the ‘wind and sea’ finale and found pertinent playfulness, serenity, volatility and elemental splendour, the Philharmonia Orchestra riding the wave of every mood and every demand. It was a swell performance.

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