Debussy Celebrations Jean- Efflam Bavouzet at the Barbican

Condolences Mr Debussy and Hats off to Bavouzet
Happy Centenary Day Debussy
Full immersion at the Barbican with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and in Washington with Benedetto Lupo
Celebrations this weekend for as the programme sales lady informed me it was not a birthday occasion at all as I had ignorantly assumed!
It took this charming young lady to inform me that it was a 100 years to the day since the death of Claude Debussy on the 25th March 1918.
He died of cancer at the age of 56 at the end of the First World War.
An entire day dedicated to Debussy on BBC Radio 3 on the eve of the great day .
And now on the day itself Jean- Efflam Bavouzet was dedicating a three part recital at Milton Court – Barbican in London to Claude Debussy.
Whilst his colleague Benedetto Lupo was doing the same in Washington.
I expect there were many more celebrations world wide but I doubt they could have rivalled the refined elegance combined with supreme intelligence of what we heard today in London.
Judging by the review from Montreal it would appear that there too Debussy was given the respect and reverence that he has long been considered by the finest very musicians.
“Souplesse” indeed that is just the word that Bavouzet was searching for in his illuminating words of wisdom that accompanied each of the three sections of a recital that began at 14.30 and finished at 20.30.

                                    The Accendo Quartet
A superb performance by the young Accendo Quartet of the Quartet in G minor op.10 fitted in nicely in a well earned break for Bavouzet between the 2nd and 3rd parts of his comprehensive survey of some of the major piano works .
It was part of the LSO Platforms in the big Symphony Hall as a pre LSO Concert event.
I have heard a lot about Jean Efflam Bavouzet but this was the first occasion to hear him live.
Highly esteemed even in Manchester where the BBC informs us in Music Matters that Debussy had some close relatives and where the cello sonata had its very first performances.
Bavouzet is engaged in recording the Haydn and Mozart Concerto with the Manchester Chamber Orchestra under Gabor Takacs- Nagy.
His recordings of the complete Beethoven Sonatas and Complete Debussy were very enthusiastically received on the BBC record review recently.
I can quite understand Solti’s enthusiasm on discovering such a complete musician.
Solti died shortly after his discovery but Bavouzet was immediately adopted by Boulez with whom,like his colleague Pierre Laurent Aimard ,he created a great musical rapport.
Having acquired a prodigious technique from that great french school of Pierre Sancan as Aimard had from Yvonne Loriod.
It is a very precise technique of great clarity and utmost cleanliness which is so perfect for the works of Ravel and Debussy as it is for Messiaen and Boulez.
The great Debussy expert Roger Nichols was unable to take part in the proposed discussions but an interview with Bavouzet was totally illuminating and included many quotes from Dr Nichols.
“Ravel I understand says Nichols ,Debussy I do not.”
“Ravel is a classical composer whereas Debussy is not.”
Bavouzet said that it is only recently that he has come to understand the influence that Eric Satie had on Debussy .
Satie for a long time he had considered as a “charlatan sympatique”. Now having studied and recorded the complete works of Debussy he realises what an important influence he had in helping to shed the massive influence that Wagner asserted still at the beginning of the last century.
When Debussy was in Rome having won the Prix de Rome he heard the 71 year old Liszt play at the Villa Medici and his influence can be very much felt in the early Arabesque n.1 of 1890 so reminiscent of Liszt’s own Sposalizio.
Strangely enough this little Arabesque was one of Boulez’s favourite works .
It was included in the first part of the recital dedicated to some of the early works.
Starting with the Ballade slave already reminiscent of the world of the Suite Bergamasque from which Bavouzet included an extremely beautiful crystal clear account of the well known Clair de lune.
It was preceded by the Nocturne of 1892 showing a distinct Faure influence in the sheer bravura writing .
The Danse Tarentelle styrienne was given a scintillating performance of great rhythmic energy.
The Images oubliees from 1894 ,the second movement Sarabande a try out for the later Pour Le Piano suite.
Beautifully played ,the subtle influence of Tristan had been illustrated in the earlier interview.
L’Isle Joyeuse that closed this first part was given a big performance.
Some enormous sounds and an almost primitive energy lead to the great virtuoso climax.
This was not passionate playing as that is not the word you could use for this supremely intelligent musician but it was of a grandeur and at the same time an almost primeval excitement.
Interesting that Bavouzet says that Debussy’s only indication of fortissimo in his piano music appears in the Hommage a Rameau that opened the second part of this marathon recital.
Atmospheric is the word that Bavouzet uses to dispel that of the word impressionistic that was so abhorrent to Debussy.
And the “Reflets dans l’eau” that opened Book I of Images was just that.
As “Mouvement” was given  a truly transcendental performance that just disappeared in a puff of smoke… a soap bubble bursting as Bavouzet so charmingly put it.
Three Preludes from Book 1.
The most popular book the second being more abstract.
La Cathedrale Engloutie was remarkable for the murmured bass on which the Cathedral rises and disappears .
Truly wonderfully atmospheric as was the Girl with the Flaxen Hair played with an unmannered simplicity that contrasted so well with a disturbingly agitated view of what the west wind brought – Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest .
A truly breathtaking performance on a par with the Feux d’Artifice that awaited us in the third part of the recital that included the complete Book 2 of the Preludes.
Seven of the studies showed off every facet of this remarkable pianist’s art.
The ease with which he seemed to be directing almost conducting at the keyboard .
Beautiful to watch as it was to listen to.
A real example to watch as the music just seemed to pour out of his whole body – the shape of his arm movements were the same shape that the music was depicting.
Like a great sculptor shaping a beautiful block of white Carrara marble.
The five finger exercise with the impossible comic interruptions played with great tongue in cheek humour that hid the transcendental technique needed for the total independence of the hands.
The subtle virtuosity in the Study in thirds and the sheer beauty of the one in sixths.
As was the beautifully shaped Arpeggio study.
A real tone poem played so clearly but so poetically.
The hinted melody in the chromatic study so reminiscent of Alkan’s Le Vent that we heard recently from Mark Viner where his phenomenal technical prowess allowed the chromatic scales to murmur so clearly weaving their way in and out on their insidiously insistent journey.
What a remarkable performance of the astonishing study Pour les sonorites opposees and the final Octave study was truly overpowering.
An hour long  break allowed those hardy souls to rush over to the Barbican Symphony Hall to enjoy some String Chamber Music by Debussy.
Not helped by the Barbican organisation that were determined not to coordinate the two events.
Missing the Danse sacree at Danse profane for the unheard of strict punctuality I did manage to insist on entering for a remarkable performance of Debussy String Quartet in G minor.
It was the ideal interval break from the piano works and acted like a lemon sorbet in the middle of a sumptuous meal.
Notable above all for the magnificent playing of Juliette Roos but also for the perfect ensemble of this student quartet that have a lifetime of music making together before them.
Rushing back again to Milton Court just a stones throw away for the final – third section of Bavouzet’s recital with a performance of the Complete Preludes Book 2.
The remarkable art of this great pianist was on show more than ever in these 12 miniature tone poems.

        Standing ovation at the end of Bavouzet’s 3 hour marathon
Debussy had not intended them to be performed all together but had insisted on the order in which they should be published.
Of course the title of every prelude published at the end with three dots before and three dots after are intended to be only a suggestion and certainly not an impressionistic programme.
Brouillards and Feuilles mortes played as a murmur with such clarity but that did not sacrifice for a second the atmosphere of these remarkably suggestive pieces.
The eruption of La puerta del vino was played with all the character and humour of the General Lavine – excentric (who says Satie was not an important influence?) as was the humour found in Hommage a S Pickwick Esq.PPMPC.
The aristocratic beauty of Ondine and La Terrasse were a remarkable contrast to the bleak Canope of such stillness where the pianist seemed to do nothing.
Art concealing art of course.
It is very rare to hear such clean and clear playing but at the same time of such intense simplicity.
The Tierce alternees a quite remarkable tour de force coming as it did almost 3 hours on in this marathon recital.
The eruptions in the final Feux d’artifice were quite breathtaking as was the merest hint of the Marseillaise floating on a cloud of sound as the Cathedral engloutie had so movingly done in the hands of this superhuman poet of the piano.
Not content to play the complete works of Debussy he has also made a transcription of Debussy’s most complex work “Jeux” much championed by Boulez.
It awaits all those lucky enough to buy in time the box set from Chandos that sold out immediately after the first part of this memorable afternoon in the company of Bavouzet and Debussy
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