Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performs Beethoven Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3: Opp. 54, 57, 78, 79, 81a, 90, 101, 106, 109, 110, 111
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)


After recording an accomplished Haydn sonata cycle, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has now completed a Beethoven one. And if this latter provides a suitable outlet for his virtuosity, it also gives great scope to his artistry. Presenting the last 11 sonatas in chronological order, his final three-CD release begins with a sweetly unassuming account of Op. 54, the first movement capriciously playful, and the perpetuum mobile pellucid.

As Bavouzet uses very little pedal, his characteristic sound is clean and dry, and when he gives us histrionics they are Beethoven’s own; there’s nothing vain or pretentiously ‘original’ in these interpretations. The first movement of his Appassionata is elegant, forceful, and seemingly weightless, while the variations of the Andante start with a plainness which only gradually achieves eloquence; the concluding Allegro has an improvisatory freshness. In Bavouzet’s hands Op. 78 becomes companionable, even Puckish, while the aggressively ‘simple’ (Beethoven’s word) Op. 79 is given unusual muscularity and substance. The mood-changes of Les adieux are full-blooded, while the complementary movements of Op. 90 work like yin and yang: after the quasi-algebraic rigour of the first movement, the allegretto, ‘not too fast and very singing’, becomes a warmly animated conversation.

The last five sonatas are mostly magnificent. I have seldom heard so gracefully persuasive an account of Op. 101, whose elusive quality Bavouzet catches to perfection, and his Hammerklavier is edge-of-your-seat stuff from start to finish. I don’t think he begins with that notorious left-hand leap – his first B flat is an appoggiatura – but the first and last movements go like the wind, and with flawless accuracy. If the dynamics in the first movement of Op. 109 are a bit clumsy, and if Op. 110 is at times a shade too emphatic, his Op. 111 is majestic, with every effect finely calculated, and the Arietta moving from passionate plangency to a lift-off into space powered by immaculate trills and gossamer figurations.


Michael Church