horizontal line

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is without doubt one of today’s most intelligent and questing pianists. From Massenet to Ohana, from Stockhausen to Haydn, he seems to excel in all he touches. The freshness of his Haydn means that his affinity with early Beethoven should come as no surprise. Yet the mixing of Beethoven and French pianists has not always been a happy one; indeed, with the honourable exceptions of Walter Gieseking and Yves Nat, it is difficult to think of significant names (apologies to Pommier and Pludermacher), never mind trace a lineage.

Bavouzet’s F minor (Op 2 No 1) is most decidedly post-Haydn. He includes both repeats in the first movement. Traits that can be traced throughout this set become evident: carefully delineated textures, an awareness of caprice (Beethoven’s wit, not Haydn’s), and a thread of unquenchable energy unfettered by any technical concerns. Like some other pianists (Pollini springs to mind), Bavouzet sees these Op 2 sonatas as major statements rather than early works, something made clear by the depth of the slow movements. There is fire in his belly, too – he clearly finds the velocity of the F minor’s finale irresistible (again, he includes the second half repeat). Dynamism wins over playfulness in Op 2 No 2. Once more, it is the slow movement that impresses the most, with its superb evocation of a pizzicato bass and its deliberately harsh sonorities, superbly caught by the Chandos recording team.

The stunning articulation that characterised Bavouzet’s Haydn recordings is carried over to his Beethoven, and Op 2 No 3 is the best showcase for this. He is keen to show the emotional scope of the piece, with the first movement containing musing mystery, and he is heard at his most sonically imposing in the slow movement (with its organ-like bass octaves).

Beethoven’s trajectory towards the ‘Pathétique’ continues with Bavouzet’s incendiary Op 7 and its rapt, prophetic Largo con gran espressione. It is a pity we don’t hear that trajectory in a linear listening; instead, we go from Op 7 straight to an impetuous, ferocious ‘Pathétique’ (Bavouzet attempts to render the sforzandos of the Grave via the pedal – many don’t). The Allegro fizzes, and the return of the Grave is a true dramatic coup. The second disc ends with the two Op 14 sonatas, presented with such care that there is little doubt they should be included in the canon (not all pianists choose to include them).

The three Op 10 sonatas provide a challenge, one Bavouzet rises to fearlessly. The first movement of the C minor is given surely the most jet-propelled reading in the catalogue, its first movement clipped and brusque to contrast with the exploratory Adagio molto. Bavouzet demonstrates the same superb control in the F major, enabling him to reveal the multifaceted Op 10 No 3 in all its variety. The two addenda add significant interest: a discarded Presto with Trio from Op 10 No 1, and the original finale with longer development (reconstructed by William Drabkin, who also provides fine booklet notes for this release). This is a significant, fascinating issue.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

   Read full review   

To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.

Read more classical music reviews online here:

Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing