Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is a French pianist known to me only from a previous disc of Bartók violin/piano pieces, in which he more than ably partnered the gifted French violinist Laurent Korcia Bartók: Works for Violin. Admittedly I was paying more attention to the violinist on that recording -- it also contains a magnificent rendering of Bartók's solo violin sonata -- but I was aware that Bavouzet was good. Still, I was not prepared for how good he would be in Debussy. This disc is the third in what I imagine will be a series with Bavouzet playing all of Debussy's solo piano works; I have not heard the earlier discs in the series, but will undoubtedly now be getting them on the basis of the wonderful playing on this CD. Debussy: Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 1, Debussy: Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 2
This disc contains some of Debussy's earliest works, including his very first published piano piece, the 'Danse bohémienne', written when he was eighteen (and presented to Madame von Meck for whom he was functioning as 'house pianist'). Also included are the two Arabesques which, for all their familiarity, are really little more than salon pieces; Bavouzet does all one can for them, and manages to moderate their cloying sweetness. One notices in these (and the other) performances that Bavouzet tends to play Debussy with more spine than some use. This is not say that he ignores the ineffable poetry of Debussy's music, but he also brings out harmonic motion and structural details in an almost Brahmsian way. I like his way with this music enormously and the performances here rank, for me, with those of Gieseking, Zimerman and Michelangeli.
Among the very familiar (and much-recorded) Debussy pieces here are the Suite Bergamasque (which, of course, includes 'Claire de lune'), Children's Corner and 'Le plus que lente.' 'Claire de lune', although played poetically, is not dragged down by a too-slow tempo, in keeping with the work's 'andante' marking. Full marks for that! 'Children's Corner' is played as well as I've ever heard it, with sauciness ('Golliwog's Cakewalk', 'Dr Gradus ad Parnassum') and tenderness ('The Little Shepherd', 'Jumbo's Lullaby') and grace ('The Snow is Dancing'). 'Le plus que lente', written for a magazine in company with pieces by Ravel, Dukas, d'Indy, Widor and Hahn, is too rarely played. It is a waltz that rises to several climaxes without ever abandoning its perfumed air. Bavouzet expertly manages the tricky transitions between the work's various sections, making it seem all of a piece, something other pianists seem to have some difficulty with. The other pieces, mostly short, mostly minor, include Nocturne (1892), Rêverie (1890), Mazurka (1890), Hommage à Haydn (1909), Morceau de Concours (1904), The little Nigar (1909), Page d'Album (1915), Berceuse héroïque (1914) and Élégie (1915). All are played beautifully by Bavouzet. The recorded sound, by the way, is exemplary.
There is no question that Bavouzet is a pianist to watch. I notice that he has recorded the complete piano works of Ravel; I shall have to put that on my wish list. Ravel: Complete Piano Works