Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Vol 3 / Bavouzet

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The meticulous workmanship and musical intelligence informing Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s previous Beethoven cycle installment are equally apparent throughout this third and final volume. In contrast to numerous brisk and suavely dispatched renditions of Op. 54’s toccata-like finale, Bavouzet’s deliberation imparts an almost jazzy inner rhythm to the swirling textures and syncopated accents.

The “Appassionata” first movement stands out for Bavouzet’s firm backbone and stinging clarity. Don’t let the central movement’s genially inflected second variation fool you into thinking that the basic tempo is being markedly modified. By contrast, the finale’s Presto contains a fascinating detail I’ve heard in no other recording: Here Bavouzet makes an unwritten accelerando that enhances the big build leading into the final peroration–a bit theatrical, granted, but the effect works brilliantly.

The disarming lyricism of Op. 78’s first movement is undermined by Bavouzet’s overly intellectualized detailing, while the finale is too sedate for what ought to be a playful and brash vivace. Nor does Bavouzet’s thoughtfully articulated Op. 79 match the offhand joy and animation served up by Kempff or Schnabel, while the “Les Adieux” sonata’s outer movements don’t equal the soaring thrust of Solomon’s classic recording. However, Bavouzet’s Op. 90 is a marvel of textural organization and assiduous transitions.

The crispness and transparency Bavouzet brings to Op. 101’s challenging fugue also informs his tautly unfolding Op. 106 fugal finale. The disparate elements characterizing the introductory Largo leading into the fugue, however, seem disconnected in Bavouzet’s hands. I like Bavouzet’s leanness and poise in the first movement, but I miss the sweeping arcs and nervous energy that others bring to the music, as well as the “inspired misprint” A-sharp in the chains of broken fifths and sixths that occur just before the recapitulation (Bavouzet plays the “corrected” A-natural favored by Kempff and Brendel). The Scherzo’s minor-key Trio section is too square for the rhythmic asymmetry to register, and Bavouzet’s big ritard when the main theme momentarily appears in B minor makes Beethoven’s intended surprise all too obvious. The pianist saves his most emotionally engaging work for a fluid, warm-toned Adagio.

Bavouzet’s graceful and poetic Op. 109 first movement dovetails right into the Prestissimo, where the pianist uncommonly differentiates detached and sustained phrase markings in the manner of Charles Rosen, Annie Fischer, and Freddy Kempf. The third-movement variations cohere by way of Bavouzet’s carefully unified tempo relationships, a virtue that also pertains to Op. 110’s finale.

You’ll also notice the point and precision on the bass trills leading from Op. 111’s Maestoso introduction into the Allegro proper, plus Bavouzet’s sophisticated shaping of the rapid unison lines. The Arietta theme is brisk but sensitively phrased, while a strong left hand presence provides an anchoring counterpart to the long chains of trills toward the movement’s end. It’s not an epic Op. 111 on the level of Pollini’s Apollonian reserve or Arrau’s expansive canvas; still, many pianists would be happy to claim Bavouzet’s authority and mastery. In sum, the best of Bavouzet’s Beethoven interpretations impart a fresh spin on thrice-familiar music without drawing attention away from the composer. That’s no small achievement.

– (Jed Distler)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10925(3)

  • UPC: 095115192528

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Performer: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet