Vivid rendition of Debussy and Ravel



Victoria Concert Hall/Thursday

Two French pianists make their debut at this year's Singapore International Piano Festival, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet opening the festival with a first half of three middle-period Beethoven sonatas.

Bavouzet's elegant approach in the opening sonata No. 24 might be written off as a rather French take on Beethoven, but this would be trivialising the thoughtfulness and freshness of his performance. It was of great depth and continued into sonata No. 27 with greater emotion and dynamics. However, the more animated episodes in the closing movement would have done well with greater intensity.

Whereas the two earlier sonatas each has two movements, the final sonata, No. 28, has four. Bavouzet's rhythmic drive in the march-like second movement and his precision in the expansive fugue in the final movement were excellent, but the Teutonic character of this sonata was not fully realised.

The second half, dedicated to works of French masters Ravel and Debussy, was a complete triumph.

Bavouzet's brief introduction, focusing on the composers' shared experience but distinct approaches to composition, provided valuable insight. The extended elaboration before each piece was masterful, making any programme notes superfluous.

The five contrasting movements of Ravel's Miroirs (Reflections) capture a huge palette of sounds, rhythms and effects that demands extraordinary pianistic skill.

In this piece, Bavouzet showed the ability to bring forth details and meaning that many pianists gloss over. The touch he applied to the gentle repeating note in the second movement, Oiseaux Tristes (Sad Birds), was exquisite and his interpretation of the court buffoon in the fourth movement, Alborada Del Gracioso (Song Of The Buffoon), was brilliant.

Many musicologists suggest that Debussy took inspiration from the famous painting of a mythical Greek island by Watteau for the evening's final work, L'isle Joyeuse (The Island Of Bliss). In his narration, Bavouzet referred to the isle of Jersey, to which Debussy escaped with Emma Bardac after their affair became known. She would become his second wife.

His rich, colourful and highly orchestral interpretation was wonderfully vivid, reflecting the love and rapture associated with Debussy's time on the island. Some in the audience may be more used to a more pastel rendition of this work, but his robust, effervescent reading was beyond reproach.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline Vivid rendition of Debussy and Ravel. Subscribe