The New York Times - Monday, July 29, 2013 - Written by Steve Smith

A Pianist With 176 Keys to Play With

Some major recitalists seem to arrive at marquee status overnight, their fame achieved — or thrust upon them — in a heated rush. For others, renown comes more slowly, built up through glowing reviews and word of mouth. The French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who performed at Mannes College the New School for Music on Saturday night, is a fine example of this second way.

Touted as the conductor Georg Solti’s last great discovery after an Orchestra of Paris debut in 1995, Mr. Bavouzet had played New York two years earlier, in a Young Concert Artists recital. By 2005, he could fill the Frick Collection’s intimate concert chamber with cognoscenti. Now his buzz is blossoming into something substantial. He plays in major halls and appears with top-rank orchestras; his Debussy and Haydn recordings for Chandos have reaped impressive awards.

This week, Mr. Bavouzet returns to the Mostly Mozart Festival, where he will play Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto with the festival orchestra on Tuesday and Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, he will present Debussy’s second book of Préludes in the Kaplan Penthouse, for the popular series A Little Night Music.

As a preface to those engagements, Mr. Bavouzet performed Beethoven and Debussy at Mannes, in the final recital of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival. That he had been booked for the finale of a series that appeals to demanding pianophiles seemed significant, and the hall was filled.

Before the concert, Jerome Rose, the festival’s founder and director, announced that Mr. Bavouzet would be playing two instruments: a Yamaha for the Beethoven, a Steinway for the Debussy. With the Sonata in D minor (Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest”), Mr. Bavouzet offered a Beethoven sharply projected and deftly contrasted, abetted by the Yamaha’s penetrating tone.

He missed a few notes early on, but settled quickly into security for an Adagio first haunted, then affectionate, followed with a frolicsome Allegretto. In the Sonata in C (Op. 53, “Waldstein”), his tempo for the opening Allegro con brio was brisk, yet brilliantly controlled, with thundering climaxes and an affirmative tone. As a gracious Adagio molto segued into an animated Rondo, you were reminded not just of how revolutionary Beethoven once was but how idiosyncratic and personal his music remains.

The darker, warmer tone of the Steinway suited Mr. Bavouzet’s rendition of Debussy’s Préludes, Book 1, in which a painterly range of tones and phrasings evoked illumination and fancy without sacrificing integrity. I can’t recall a more gripping performance of “La Cathédrale Engloutie” (“The Submerged Cathedral”), the high point of an account both exacting and spontaneous. A rousing ovation earned a single encore: a sparkling “Feux d’Artifice” (“Fireworks”), from Debussy’s second book of Préludes.

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