Album reviews: Falla and Debussy

By William Dart

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Debussy album cover. Photo / Supplied
Debussy album cover. Photo / Supplied

Not every pianist gets to take all 32 Beethoven Sonatas to Beijing's Forbidden City - as did Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in 2010. On disc, the French pianist brings exquisitely sculpted Debussy and Ravel into our lounges as well as captivating us with his adventures on the Haydn trail.

The Brodsky Quartet may dominate a new Debussy CD from Chandos with its muscular take on the String Quartet, although the composer's Danses, with harpist Sioned Williams, cry out for fuller string sound.

Bavouzet saves the day, alongside two of the Brodskys, in a Piano Trio. Debussy was still in his teens when he wrote this work, trundling around Europe in the pay of Tchaikovsky's highly-strung patroness, Nadejda von Meck. It is minor league music, but Bavouzet's panache, rippling through its cocktail of Tchaikovsky and Massenet, might make you think otherwise.

Once you have heard Debussy's Scherzo, you may wonder whether it had a part to play in the birth of Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum Fairy.

Bavouzet crosses the Pyrenees for Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain on another Chandos recording of Falla's music.

In a breathtaking Three-Cornered Hat, conductor Juanjo Mena shows the advantages of being Spanish. The atmosphere is clinched right away with the pounding of drums and the bray of trumpets, vociferous shouting from the BBC Philharmonic players and the passionate soprano of Raquel Lojendio.

The familiar dances are irresistibly hypnotic; and in the smaller pieces one marvels at the finessed textures of an Allegro that even manages a tongue-in-cheek nod to Beethoven's Fifth.

At the end of the album, Falla's final Homenajes offers moving tributes to composers who have gone before him, including Debussy. Nights in the Gardens of Spain is pure seduction - three nocturnes transporting us from the Moorish Alhambra to a wild party on the hills of Cordoba. It is an Iberian festival of sumptuous colours, with Bavouzet dashing off florid piano lines with the skill of a musical matador.

Falla
Works for Stage and Concert Hall
(Chandos)
Stars: 4/5

Debussy
String Quartet, Piano Trio etc
(Chandos, both through Ode Records)
Stars: 5/5

Verdict: Charismatic pianist excels in home territory and across the Pyrenees

- NZ Herald

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