Debussy: Complete Works For Piano Vol 4 / Bavouzet

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Another ravishing release from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet – so what are you waiting for?

A momentum has been building throughout Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s superb Debussy exploration and there is a sense of culmination in this, the fourth volume. With one still to go, the mind boggles as to how he will top this.

In fact, more of the same would be achievement enough. The fascinating thing about Bavouzet’s Debussy is the way he upsets notions of how this composer should go, while still giving more than a nod to tradition. So here are the Images and 12 Etudes firm of hand, projected with a strength and sense of line that one might expect could dull the music’s hazy brilliance. Yet there is never any danger of shifting sands congealed, as along with forward propulsion we get any number of miraculous, nearly hidden details. Imagination is never the slave of clarity, but clarity there is – the better to appreciate the richness of the prize.

Few pianists can have done all of these things at once in this repertoire so adeptly, so naturally. For anyone looking for the must-have Debussy collection, Bavouzet is surely the leading contender. Volume 2 of this series was pipped to the post in this year’s Gramophone Awards by Paul Lewis’s Beethoven (which went on to claim the Record of the Year prize). It would be no surprise if, after this release, the Frenchman is in the running again.

-- Gramophone [12/2008]

This outstanding Debussy series has been praised vigorously by my colleagues Jed Distler and Christophe Huss, and I can only second their enthusiasm. Bavouzet's Debussy offers the epitome of style, virtuosity, taste, and interpretive intelligence. His touch is miraculous. In the second book of Images, listen to Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut: each layer of harmony has its own independent dynamics and phrasing, making the piano sound like a miniature orchestra being played by far more than a mere two hands. In Mouvement (from Set I) Bavouzet's choice of tempo is perfect, his rhythmic inflections infectious but never mechanical. Listening to him is a joy.

If the Études remain Debussy's least popular set of piano pieces, this performance should go a long way toward easing their passage into the pianistic mainstream. It's not just the humor that Bavouzet projects in the first piece ("pour les cing doigts"), or his natural flexibility and brilliance in the octave study--there is also his sensitivity to texture and sonority. Indeed, the chromatic study in Book 2 makes some amazing sounds that look forward to Conlon Nancarrow's player piano studies. Like the other releases in this series, the entire recital is perfectly recorded. There's also a bonus in the form of a completion by Roy Howat of Debussy's first sketches for the arpeggio study. It's nice to have, if hardly necessary, but the entire series remains an essential acquisition for pianophiles and Debussy fans alike.

-- David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10497

  • UPC: 095115149720

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Claude Debussy

  • Performer: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet