Bavouzet, Noseda, BBC-SO: Bartok P Ctos: Edgy, Rhythmic Readings, filled out with passing tonal colors ...
Reviewed in the United States on 1 November 2010
During my undergrad years, I was a music student of sorts, so I did end up studying Bartok's Improvisations on folks songs (Opus 20, I think). I found them completely challenging and rewarding. A consistent, vital line leads right from the composer's solo piano music, to his piano concertos. The three concertos are nicely distributed, early to middle to late, Bartok.
My bench marks are a feisty lot: Sandor, Kovacevich, Geza Anda (with Fricsay = legendary), Bronfman, Ashkenazy, Schiff, ... and a very special tip of the listener hat to Peter Donohoe with Rattle in Birmingham. Now arrives French player Bavouzet, right after him making a huge splash with the complete solo piano music of Debussy on the label, Chandos, (and Ravel, too, on another label, MDG). I hear that a mixed French recital of piano with orchestra music is waiting in the new release wings. I think it will be super audio, too, and predictably, will by all accounts make a strong impression.
The pianist is accompanied by Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Symphony. My first exposure to Noseda put me off; it was a soggy Mahler tenth. I could only imagine with negatives how that sort of manner would go down in Bartok. Happily, these ready fears completely fail to materialize.
Noseda has the BBC band playing at tip top levels. They have a gusty, edgy, colorful way with Bartok's concerto parts - never mere accompaniments, by the way - that matches the solo player beautifully. Overall the emphasis is on vital, rhythmic energy. Bavouzet has a percussive way with the modern piano that nevertheless allows lots of passing color; at times his energy is almost too relentless. The through line that connects all three piano concertos is tempo-rhythm-figuration-polyphony?
This interpretive music core is sufficiently charged on all accounts that a listener may fear for the hapless third concerto, where deeper matters than percussion come so dearly into focus. But again, Noseda and Bavouzet and the band all back off enough, so that the edge grows deeper, quieter without softening. The night music chirrups and trills of the middle movement of the third concerto are done with more sparkle and less mystery. (Bartok did mark it, religioso, after all.)
This one is a keeper, especially if you have felt that prior players at all sold short Bartok's rhythms and percussive uses of the modern piano. I still revere Donohoe/Rattle by an unchanged high distance. But few will dare to argue that Bavouzet and partners have sold Bartok short by much, if at all.
The sound is really good, full-frequency, PCM red book stereo. One wonders if SACD would have brought out even more sense of color and tonal presence, to balance out the heavy rhythmic roots in these readings, concerto one through three?
Recommended. Just listen, forget about stars. Also. Do check out Peter Donohoe and Rattle in Birmingham, especially wonderful on a good pain of high end headphones.
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