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This set updates the previous Chandos offering of the Prokofiev piano concertos, conducted by Neeme Järvi and split between pianists Boris Berman and Horacio Gutiérrez. The new booklet notes, by the Prokofiev expert David Nice and Bavouzet himself, are a model of their kind. The five concertos fit neatly over two discs.

The BBC Philharmonic blossomed with Noseda as its principal conductor (2002-2011; he is now conductor laureate), and the close rapport they enjoy is evident here. It needs to be, given the ensemble challenges of Prokofiev’s scores, both for the orchestra alone and between soloist and tutti. Bavouzet, one of the most intelligent pianists active today, plays with complete authority.

Bavouzet made his concerto debut at the Paris Conservatoire with Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. He captures the work’s youthful energy. The BBC Philharmonic is on exceptional form in the Andante assai, yet it is the work’s closing pages that sum up the vitality of the Bavouzet/Noseda combination so perfectly. The musicians capture in the recording studio (MediaCityUK, Salford) all the excitement of a live event. The performance is up there with Argerich/ Dutoit (EMI).

The tremendously and notoriously difficult Second Piano Concerto seems to hold no fears for Bavouzet (although he acknowledges the difficulties in his commentary). Communication between piano and orchestra is once more a highlight, as is Bavouzet’s very muscular cadenza. The helter-skelter passages in the finale are wonderfully done. Excellent though Yuja Wang is (Deutsche Grammophon), Bavouzet is the more mature musician, while demonstrating just as fine a technique.

The Third Piano Concerto, by far the most famous of the five (and the most recorded), emerges as almost feather-light and Classical in outlook. Bavouzet’s crisp, clear articulation, deft fingerwork and intelligent, sensitive contributions to the set of variations that comprises the central movement are remarkable. The finale’s pace is slightly leisurely, but this strategy comes off in the lead-in to the final gestures.

The Fourth Piano Concerto is for the left hand only (it was originally written for and commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein). Bavouzet gives it his all. There is a tremendous sense of strength, particularly in the first movement; Noseda and the BBC forces equal him in profundity, though, in the depth of the string sound at the opening of the Andante second movement. The Fifth Piano Concerto brings Bavouzet up against titanic opposition in the form of Sviatoslav Richter (the Deutsche Grammophon version, with the Warsaw Philharmonic under Rowicki). Both pianists give valid readings, with Bavouzet more open to the work’s humour – in fact, he is decidedly cheeky at the opening, providing a contrast to Richter’s wide-eyed exuberance. Both pianists capture the myriad moods of this piece with uncanny ease, from the motoric elements of the second movement to the nightmarish processional at the heart of the fourth (Bavouzet and Noseda are particularly successful here, and the pianist’s magnificent jeu perlé touch thereafter is magical).

This is a release that effectively sets the standard for 21st-century Prokofiev interpretation.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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