Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has excellent credentials, with his playing reputedly stunning, crisp and incisive. The Melbourne audience found this to be so, writes Peter Williams, who reviewed the pianist’s concert on November 25 in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. The first half of the recital was dedicated to three Beethoven sonatas. Lebewohl (or Les Adieux) Opus 81a is partly programmatic with the leaving, the exile, and the return of the Royal Family from its exile. It began with slightly, nonetheless expressive “horn” call which is a core motif of the piece, then moved into dazzlingly clear octave leaps which commanded attention in the fast section.
Bavouzet’s strong, expressive playing evoked the feeling of absence as the music became increasingly spare. A wonderful sense of rhythm and sharp focus informed the movement. In the second movement he developed the pathos of resigned acceptance with beautiful cantabile playing, whilst also exploring a seeming instability of key in the dotted rhythmic sections. The final movement was bold with speed – definitely “vivacissamemente” – which gave a sense of horses urgently racing home. The crisp sforzando of the single notes was spine-tingling and the build up of crescendos was made even more electrifying with a split second of silence before resolution.
Whilst the Sonata No 22 is only two movement long and tucked away in between the more famous Waldstein and Appassionata, Bavouzet gave good reason to listen to it anew. The strong accents, staccato passages, rough bass notes and thunderous chords gave the first movement the toughness of the later Beethoven. Bavouzet brought a great sense of drama to the toccata-like second movement with rapid-fire semi-quavers, sure rhythmic drive, singing dolce passages and crashing chords that even lifted him off the piano stool!
By now, the audience had a sense of the power and musicianship that Bavouzet would bring to the Appassionata. There was clarity and great attention to the dynamics of the piece – from the sinister “fate motif” to the calm of the chorale-like variations of the slow movement, through to the final elemental forces of wild passion. One audience member exclaimed, “I’m sure I saw the piano move”.
The second half began with Le Livre de JEB by Bruno Mantovani, a piece composed for Bavouzet, which he played from the score. Even more than in the Beethoven, the outer reaches of the piano were explored with crushing sustained sonorous chords, rapidly repeated notes, and almost filigreed texture in some passages at the top end of the piano. Some of the rapid twirling note motifs became syncopated in a jazz-like rhythm. It was an opportunity to marvel at the pianist’s technique and the use of tonal texture.
Bavouzet is rightly renowned for playing Ravel. Whilst the six pieces of Miroirs are only marginally programmatic, they were all wonderfully atmospheric with great attention to tone colour. For example in Noctuelles (Night Moths) with his hands overlapping in the whir of the wings; the beautifully velvet deep chords heightened the sadness and delicacy of the top notes in Oiseaux Tristes (Sad Birds); the glissandos and small dramatic changes gave a wistful beauty to Une Barque sur l’ocean (A Boat on the Ocean). The melodic line, with intervals typical of Spanish music, was beautifully reinforced rhythmically in Alborada del gracioso (Morning Serenade for the Jester) and the resonance of chords and notes produced beautiful effects in La Vallee des cloches (Valley of the Bells), which ended with a stunning pianissimo.
It was a visceral and stunning performance, which the audience fully appreciated. Congratulations to the Recital Centre – Bavouzet certainly belongs in the Great Performers category.