Bavouzet's name isn't as well known as other pianists who are part of the Parisian march on the keyboard, such as Helene Grimaud and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, but his recordings for Chandos have been eye-openers. I was very impressed by his recording of the three Bartok concertos, and here he faces similar odds. Do we even remotely need another recording of the Ravel G major Concerto? The historically minded treasure Michelangeli's famous EMI recording, although its sonics are antique by now; in modern times I'd say that Martha Argerich owns the work and plays it with more dazzle than any rival. Bavouzet has a few advantages, however. The orchestral accompaniment is as sparkling and alert as his playing, and Chandos's sound is vivid and full of impact, really up to date, in fact. The piano is recorded beautifully, and as a final enticement, there are unusual fillers.
Is all of that enough? If you love either or both of Ravel's piano concertos, the answer is yes. The Left-Hand Concerto is the lesser work, but Yves Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Sym. throw themselves into the score. When Ravel accepted this commission from the wealthy one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein (a musical conservative who initially didn't like the Ravel work, as he didn't like what he received from Prokofiev or Britten), the composer made the point that he wanted the solo writing not to be thinner than concertos for two hands. But it is. Ravel substitutes striking, compact rhythmic motifs to set the piano off against the orchestra, and there are marvelous orchestral touches, starting with the climb from the Stygian gloom at the bottom of the orchestra up to the light -- it's like watching prehistoric life evolve. Tortelier realizes how much of the burden he must carry, and he sails through with the best orchestral reading I've heard. Bavouzet is very good, too, best in the jazzy middle section and the unaccompanied rainfall of notes that feels like Debussy's water music.
He brings jazzy vivacity to the G major Concerto as well, and as in his Bartok, he softens the brittleness of the solo part, shading it in a more lyrical -- I want to say more humane -- way. One reason that I wasn't eager about this CD initially is that I don't respond to Ravel's musical dandyism, so Bavouzet's warmth appeals to me. Screw up the excitement two more notches and you arrive at Argerich. Even so, this is a lovely reading, and Argerich has never enjoyed such gorgeous piano sound.
The program begins with Debussy's early Fantasie, the only piano concerto we have from a composer celebrated for is piano writing. But there's not much evidence of the Preludes, Images, ad Etudes to come in a work from 1889-90, when he was 27. In fact, Debussy suppressed the piece while it was in rehearsal; it wasn't premiered until after is death in 1918. Mr. Morrison's review does full justice to a melodic diversion that is watered down Faure with touches of Franck. I am more enthusiastic about Bavouzet's choice of six piano pieces by Massenet, which epitomize the sophistication of the salon culture that adored his operas. They charm the ear as gently as Faure or Debussy, if not with the latter's revolutionary overtones.
Overall, this was a delightful listen from a pianist who seems more or less impeccable in whatever he touches.