Debussy: Piano Music, Vol. 5

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Music, Vol. 5: Khamma; Jeux; La boîte à joujoux
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

 Here’s a welcome surprise. Having already provided as comprehensive a survey of Debussy’s solo piano works as might normally be expected, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has now added a fifth volume devoted to the three late ballets.
Only Martin Jones (Nimbus) has previously thought to include this beguiling triptych in his Debussy cycle, and, while his performances are attractive, Bavouzet has the edge in terms of shimmering colour, especially in Jeux.
It is a work with which he has a particular affinity, having also made his own two piano arrangement of it, and it is a mark of his pianistic skill that Debussy’s diaphanous orchestration is missed only rarely.
Whereas Jeux is effective in its own right, some knowledge of the scenario is essential for both Khamma and La boîte à joujoux. Koechlin and Caplet respectively completed the orchestrations of these ballets, so these piano versions are especially important. Despite being a score that caused him immense trouble, Debussy also recognized Khamma as possessing important harmonic advances.
On a blind listening, few would identify the opening pages as being by the same composer as Jeux, for the scenario is painted in dark and turbulent hues on the piano, especially in Bavouzet’s hands.
La boîte à joujoux by contrast is a wry and charming return to the world of Children’s Corner. It is a work that raises a smile at one moment and is disarmingly moving the next. Bavouzet paces its action adroitly, while also capturing the sincere innocence. Christopher Dingle