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HALL OF FAMEon 11 December 2010
Suddenly in the last few years there have been three French pianists who have burst upon the scene: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Alexandre Tharaud, and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. And I collect the recordings of all three without fail. Bavouzet came into my view with his extraordinary recordings of the complete solo works of Debussy Debussy: Complete Works For Piano, Vol. 3,Debussy: Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 2, etc. And his magnificent Haydn sonatas Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1. Now we get a (mostly) concerto CD comprising Debussy's 'Fantaisie' and the two Ravel concertos. For lagniappe we get rarely heard solo pieces by Massenet, pieces I'd never heard before. Charming and old-fashioned in this company and probably not great works, those Massenets, but delightful (and a bit surprising, honestly) to hear. The 'Toccata' is marvelous and I would never have guessed it was by Massenet. Both Roger Nichols, the writer of the fine booklet notes, and Bavouzet, in his note, comment on the similarity between Massenet's Toccata and that in Ravel's 'Tombeau de Couperin.' The 'Valse folle' is a whirlwind which sounds a good twenty years more modern than anything of Massenet's I've ever heard.

But the main dishes in this French repast are the Debussy and Ravel. The Debussy 'Fantaisie' is not often played in concert in my experience and it doesn't sound entirely like the Debussy we all know and love, largely because it is a very early work. There are Debussyan fingerprints, of course, like whole-tone passages and quirky harmonic movement, but the work itself often sounds like quasi-Fauré (not that there's anything wrong with that). Still, Bavouzet and his colleagues -- Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic -- give a performance that makes the best possible case for it. The only other recording I have of the Fantaisie is the old one by Walter Gieseking which is fine but in ancient sound. I've not heard the one by Zoltan Kocsis, but I can imagine that it is pretty good. Debussy: Solo Piano Music; Fantaisie; Ravel: Piano Concertos

Ah, but the Ravel concertos are among the very best written in the twentieth century. The G Major Concerto has one recording that stands above all the rest: Michelangeli Ravel: Piano Concerto in G; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4. But Bavouzet comes awfully close. He plays the gorgeous second movement with great beauty of tone at the same time that he plays that long aching, arching opening melody with restraint, just as I imagine Ravel wanted. The third movement is extremely fast, jazzy, exhilarating. The BBC Symphony's bassoonist, amazingly, keeps up with Bavouzet. The only complaint is that the whip is anemic-sounding.

The Left Hand Concerto ascends from that froggy depth with which it begins and becomes a jazzy struggle of the best kind, an entirely muscular performance that does not skimp on the poetry. This is possibly the best recording of it I've heard, although I continue to love the one by Zimerman/Boulez Ravel: The Piano Concertos; Valses nobles et sentimentales.

Strongly recommended.

Scott Morrison
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on 5 November 2010
Hallelujah! Put out the fatted calf! At last a thoroughly recommendable set of the Ravel Piano Concertos on SACD.

When reviewing the (extremely) sub-par efforts of Roget on Oehms, I commented that we had to retrieve our vinyl and - even - RBCD to hear these works performed well. But we can now safely return these to the shelves.

Bavouzet, the BBCSO and Tortelier are clearly of one mind in these performances. Bavouzet's playing is refined, sophisticated and just has precisely the right degree of distanced Gallic passion. The pieces flow and are structured immaculately. In short, these are thoroughly engaging, exciting and idiomatic performances.

And the fill-ups? The Massenet solo piano pieces are tuneful, interesting and pleasant miniatures. However, the Debussy Fantasie which opens the disc is - frankly - inconsequential and eminently unmemorable IMO.

The sound quality is superb throughout - with one small proviso I will come to in a minute. The piano tone is liquid, focussed and refined. The whole recording is superbly crystalline and transparent, in the best Chandos manner. As a result, every strand of the delicate orchestration in these pieces is beautifully revealed.

Now the small proviso. The piano is nicely set in a mid-hall perspective. However, I then find the orchestra too close- in other words, the piano and orchestra are a tad too close together; I would have preferred greater distancing of the latter, in normal Chandos house style! That would also have produced more hall sound.

But let's not quibble over minutiae. Bottom line, this is a fine and wholly recommendable disc.
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on 8 January 2012
It seems difficult to find a masterpiece that gets as many disappointing performances as the Ravel G Major Concerto. The first two movements pose serious interpretative problems. In the first movements, these have to do with the tempo relations between the Allegramente main theme and the Meno vivo secondary sections. Meno vivo certainly means slower than the basic tempo, but how much so? Many pianists cannot resist the temptation to slam on the breaks and prepare for a show of hyper-sensitive pianism, thereby destroying both the continuity and the dry humour of the piece. In the Adagio, there is basically just one tempo, and it is certainly quite slow (`Assez lent') but not extremely so, - the piece should not sound unduly solemn or pathetic. Ravel's models here were Mozart and Saint-Saëns, not Bruckner or Tchaikovsky.
Marguerite Long's 1932 recording with the composer conducting clearly demonstrates how these pieces should be done, but that recording really sounds its age. From the stereo era, there used to be three really good recordings: the volatile, exuberant François with Cluytens (EMI), the incomparable Monique Haas with Paul Paray (DG) and as an outsider, the intensely poetic Moravec (Supraphone), endearingly accompanied by the characterful but not wholly idiomatic Prague Philharmonia under Belohlavek.
Bavouzet now joins this trio; to my ears, he finishes in second place just behind Haas. In the booklet notes, Bavouzet writes that he and Tortelier were both pupils of the great Ravelian Pierre Sancan, and they certainly know how to pace the music - in both movements, they are just seconds slower than Long or Haas. I do have some reservations, however, concerning the orchestral playing. It is no secret that the BBC Philharmonic does not have the most powerful bass section in the world (no complaints about the really prominent side drum, though!). More disconcertingly, the playing in general, while technically very accomplished, sounds just a shade plain and anonymous at times. The cor anglais solo from the Adagio provides a good case in point: the British player is certainly technically better than his French colleague from 1965 on the Haas recording, but sounds a bit detached while the quavering, reedy French cor anglais breaks your heart. Roughly similar observations apply to the reading of the Concerto for the Left Hand, and if that means that these recordings are not quite perfect, these reservations do not seem serious enough to withhold a fifth star, especially since Bavouzet turns out to be one of the very few pianists who can really make you love Debussy's atmospheric but rhapsodic Fantaisie. The Massenet encores are lightweight but delightfully done. All in all, this is clearly the best modern recording of the Ravel Concertos, and can be confidently recommended - but true perfection remains elusive in these works.
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on 28 June 2013
I have enjoyed listening to these work, particularly the Ravel. I would highly recommend this and Mr Bavouzet's other Debussy CD's.
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on 17 May 2014
The combination of pieces chosen here is wonderful. It is a delight and very relaxing, even if you are working hard at the computer and not paying too much heed to the music. The playing is second to none. You can tell the pianist is one delightful person just in the way he plays (he is) and he definitely has a love for this music. Thoroughly recommend.
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on 4 June 2014
This disc is an absolute delight. You have benchmark performances of three beatiful works for piano and orchestra beatifully recorded. Unmissable.
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