Debussy: Estampes; Pour le piano; Images (oubliées); Ballade; L’isle joyeuse; …D’un cahier d’esquisses

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 2
WORKS: Estampes; Pour le piano; Images (oubliées); Ballade; L’isle joyeuse; …D’un cahier d’esquisses
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10443
This second volume of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Debussy cycle reveals the intelligence of his programming. A trio of three-movement works is at its heart, but the disc opens and closes with two further triptychs, pseudo-cycles of contemporaneous pieces usually heard in isolation. Bavouzet’s strengths are also to the fore, with glowing colours in the opening Ballade and Valse romantique, followed by sparkling elegance in the Danse.

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For once the benchmark artist, Walter Gieseking (EMI), is merely brilliant rather than at his peerless best in the Estampes and Pour le piano. By contrast, his slightly detached, yet sustained touch in the ‘Sarabande’ from the latter leaves recent pianists sounding about as refined as cold porridge. Bavouzet crashes into the opening ‘Prelude’ with breathless excitement, but takes Debussy’s indication to slow down a little while easing into the main theme as a cue to slam on the brakes. It certainly grabs the attention, but Bavouzet never quite regains the adrenalin-pumping promise of the opening few bars; the momentum is dissipated, and there is little forward direction as the music bubbles upwards.

Similarly, the outer movements of Estampes are exquisitely judged, but drizzle from ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ seems to have been blown into the central ‘La soirée dans Grenade…’. Noriko Ogawa (BIS) takes much longer, but her guitarists have real fire. Despite these caveats, and while Ogawa also takes the palm in the Images (oubliées), Bavouzet has numerous worthwhile insights. This cycle may yet prove to be greater than the sum of its individual parts.

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Christopher Dingle