IN THREE short pieces by Debussy, selected on nothing more than the whim that each referred to the moon in its title, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet created a sound world of exquisite delicacy, built on the twin pillars of his imagination and his technical control. That was remarkable, but for those who know his Debussy recordings, not unexpected. Then he turned his attention to another Debussy masterpiece, the ballet Jeux, which, perhaps more than any other work captures that composer's aesthetic that beauty lies in elusiveness.
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Bavouzet's desire to transcribe and play this work as a piano concert work (basing the transcription on the rehearsal score that Debussy himself had written for the dancers) was an ambition that arouses both interest and scepticism. How well would its extraordinarily complex orchestral textures translate onto the keyboard controlled by a mere 10 fingers? The answer came in the performance that both cherished the work's essence while shining new light upon it in a way that both analysed and clarified. Bavouzet brought to the tasks both of transcribing and performing a penetrating musical intelligence, a keen sensitivity for sound and the imagination and technical ability to realise them all.
After interval, Bavouzet paired this with its perfect complement and perfect opposite, transcriptions of the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Debussy was strongly influenced by Wagner in what the critic Harold Bloom has called the agonistic sense - he wanted to go beyond.
Bavouzet's performance was characterised by clarity of line and careful shading of inner parts rather than grandstanding sound. Rather than overwhelm you, he draws you into the details of the score and musical thought. Framing this was Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata, opus 13, in a performance of arresting gestures and carefully delineated structure, and Liszt's Grosses Konzertsolo. This last work borrows many ideas from Liszt's contemporaneous compositions without quite achieving their cogency and although Bavouzet fared heroically, I couldn't help feeling that a good way to celebrate Liszt's genius in his bicentennial year would be to avoid playing it.
Reviewed by Peter McCallum