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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 / Bavouzet

Beethoven / Bavouzet
Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10720   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: Nos. 1–10. Piano Sonata No. 5: original finale. Presto in c, WoO 52 Jean-Efflam Bavouzet CHANDOS 10720 (3 CDs: 213:46)


With this launch by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet of another Beethoven piano sonata cycle, it appears that a contest between two Frenchmen is shaping up.


My admiration for François-Frédéric Guy’s nearing-completion cycle for Zig-Zag Territoires suddenly demands that attention be shared Read more with the pianist’s slightly younger compatriot Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Both men hail from the northwestern region of France—Guy was born in 1969 in Vernon; Bavouzet was born in 1962 in Lannion.


Bavouzet means business. He jumps in with both feet, giving us 10—nearly a third—of Beethoven’s sonatas, throwing in for good measure the original finale to the C-Minor Sonata, op. 10/1, in a reconstruction by William Drabkin, and the discarded Presto also originally intended for the same opus.


Just within the last five years the number of new Beethoven cycles to appear on the scene, either complete or still in progress, has posed an embarrassment of riches for the potential buyer and a dilemma for the critic. In 2005, Paul Lewis completed his highly acclaimed survey. As Lewis was finishing his cycle, András Schiff embarked on a new one, which is now complete. In 2010, Italian pianist Christian Leotta delivered three volumes in his not-yet-complete survey, while also in 2010 Cambria pulled out all the stops for pianist Peter Takács, recording his complete cycle in SACD and presenting it in a lavish coffee-table book format. Even more recently, we received a second volume of sonatas from Jonathan Biss in what is assumed to be the start of another cycle; meanwhile, Angela Hewitt has been working her way through the sonatas more slowly, having released 10 of them as of 2010.


All of these efforts have much to offer. Leotta’s approach was judged a bit controversial in terms of tempo choices and other interpretive decisions by three or four of Fanfare ’s contributors, including this one, but if you were to choose any of these versions, you would end up a satisfied customer.


Then within the last couple of issues, François-Frédéric Guy came along with readings of 25 of the sonatas in two three-disc volumes on his way to the finish line—actually, the sonatas were all recorded live and are already in the can, the remaining seven awaiting release by Atma. Guy’s readings really opened my ears to these works in a way they hadn’t been before. There was something about his playing that seemed utterly spontaneous and alive to the caprice of the moment, yet controlled by a perfect sense of timing and sweeping technique.


Necessarily, one has to wonder how Bavouzet would fare against such exceptional talent as Guy’s. Truthfully, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Chandos would produce a set of the Beethoven sonatas to compete directly against its previous very respectable cycle with the pianist who for so long has been practically one of the label’s house artists, Louis Lortie. But then that cycle was made more than a decade and a half ago, so it’s out with the old and in with the new.


Both Guy’s and Bavouzet’s sets present the sonatas not in strict numerical sequence, but in keeping to a general grouping of the works by their chronological periods, so that in neither instance do we get a disc containing a mix of early and late sonatas. There is, however, one major difference. Guy’s recordings are taken from live performances and, as such, the sonatas are arranged on the discs in groups of three or four in a way that reflects concert programs. The result is that on each of Guy’s individual discs, not just in each volume, you get one or more of Beethoven’s popular “name” sonatas. For example, disc 1 of Volume 1 contains the “Moonlight” Sonata, while disc 2 of Volume 1 contains the “Pathétique.”


Bavouzet’s cycle, which appears to be a studio effort, adheres more closely to a numerical sequence, though the two shorter op. 14 sonatas come before the three longer op. 10 sonatas, probably to accommodate disc layout exigencies. As a result of Bavouzet and Chandos’s strategy, on the three discs that make up Volume 1 we get only one of the popular “name” sonatas, the “Pathétique.”


As to Bavouzet’s playing, we needn’t dwell on matters of technical execution because as with so many of today’s instrumentalists we’re in a realm where perfection itself must hide her face in shame. Bavouzet has been recorded in a wide range of repertoire, from Haydn to Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, and Bartók, and almost without exception his performances have been received with strongly positive reviews in these pages.


So, accepting Bavouzet’s technical abilities as a given, what’s left to address are his interpretive approach and Chandos’s recording. Interpretively, Bavouzet is not as spontaneous or mercurial as Guy. But that’s OK. He’s a strict observer of the score, though in an extended postscript to the album’s main program note, Bavouzet speaks at great length on the performance history and recorded legacy of the sonatas, but doesn’t mention the edition he uses.


What some listeners might describe as crispness to Bavouzet’s touch strikes me more as a clipped approach which, to my ear, makes Beethoven’s staccatos sound like firecrackers going off. I need to make clear that my impression is relative to my still very fresh exposure to Guy, whose more pliant, supple way with these scores creates a very different effect. In contrast—but only in contrast—Bavouzet sounds a bit rigid and unyielding.


For some reason, Guy omits the first three of Beethoven’s sonatas, the op. 2 set, written in 1796 and dedicated to Haydn, opting instead to offer the Sonata No. 4 in E? Major, op. 7, composed two years later, as the earliest essay in his Volume 1. They’re not in Volume 2 either, so one assumes they’ll be showing up in the final volume, which negates my previous observation that no single disc contains a mix of early and late sonatas. Obviously, that will no longer be true when Guy’s final volume is released.


Bavouzet, on the other hand, begins right off the bat with the op. 2 set, taking not just the first-movement exposition repeats in the first two sonatas, but the development-recapitulation repeats as well. This is where it would have been helpful to know what edition of the sonatas Bavouzet is using, because the development-recapitulation repeats do appear in my Kalmus urtext scores and in Artaria’s first edition, as well as in the Breitkopf & Härtel edition, and possibly in more recent researched and corrected editions by Henle, Cooper, and Tecla. But in the Peters, Universal, and subsequent Kalmus editions, the development-recapitulation repeats are removed.


Most likely, later editors eliminated these second-half repeats when it became customary to omit them in performance, and composers, including Beethoven, discontinued the practice of writing them. In fact, Beethoven already omitted the second-half repeat as early as the third sonata in the op. 2 set, and returned to the practice with decreasing frequency thereafter. Soon he would begin to eliminate the exposition repeat as well. It’s in keeping with Bavouzet’s strict adherence to the urtext, or some version thereof, that he observes not just repeats but dynamic and expressive markings to the letter. Since Guy’s op. 2 has not yet been released, I’m not able to say whether he observes these second-half repeats or not.


If I have any reservations regarding Bavouzet’s readings, they come in the “Pathétique” Sonata, one of those very familiar and highly popular works about which listeners are apt to be a bit more finicky. First, in the Grave introduction, Bavouzet’s dotting is what’s often characterized as being of the “lazy” variety, meaning that the dotted 16ths aren’t quite long enough and the 32nds aren’t quite short enough, resulting in a loping rhythmic effect that tends to feel as if it’s falling into a compound meter like 6/8.


Then, second, at the Allegro , Bavouzet takes off at a tempo I haven’t experienced since Fazil Say set his piano’s felt hammers on fire in his recording of the “Tempest,” “Waldstein,” and “Appassionata” sonatas. Beethoven gave us no metronome markings for any of his piano sonatas other than the “Hammerklavier,” so we can’t really know how fast he intended the Allegro of the “Pathétique” to go, but Bavouzet’s tempo strikes me as more appropriate for the “Tempest” or “Waldstein” than for this early essay, which belongs to his pre-1800 works. At 9:45, Guy’s first movement is more than a minute longer than Bavouzet’s breathless 8:40.


At the moment, I remain under the sway of Guy, but it may be in the long run that Bavouzet’s Beethoven will wear better. The expressiveness and communicativeness Guy achieves through spontaneity and caprice may, to some extent, be at the expense of the music’s inner integrity. Bavouzet may provide the corrective to that. In a way, these two magnificent French pianists almost seem to play each other’s alter egos. It’s tempting to see them as Schumann’s Florestan and Eusebius, except that the personalities of those two imaginary characters don’t quite fit either pianist’s approach to Beethoven’s sonatas.


This may not be the clear, decisive, hoped-for conclusion, but if you were to choose Bavouzet or Guy, I think you’d end up a satisfied customer. If you can afford it, choose both.


Chandos’s recordings, made between 2008 and 2011 in Suffolk’s Potton Hall, Dunwich, are exemplary, capturing Bavouzet’s Steinway Model D in rock-solid, full-bodied sound, and the booklet essay by William Drabkin, furnished with a number of musical examples, is well written and highly informative. When it comes to Beethoven, Bavouzet is the equivalent of a strict Constitutional constructionist. His readings will withstand the test of time.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Sonata for Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 2 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793-1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk  
Length: 19 Minutes 26 Secs. 
2. Sonata for Piano no 2 in A major, Op. 2 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794-1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 25 Minutes 22 Secs. 
3. Sonata for Piano no 3 in C major, Op. 2 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794-1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 24 Minutes 53 Secs. 
4. Sonata for Piano no 4 in E flat major, Op. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796-1797; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 28 Minutes 30 Secs. 
5. Sonata for Piano no 8 in C minor, Op. 13 "Pathétique" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 18 Minutes 26 Secs. 
6. Sonata for Piano no 9 in E major, Op. 14 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1798; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 13 Minutes 19 Secs. 
7. Sonata for Piano no 10 in G major, Op. 14 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1799; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 14 Minutes 59 Secs. 
8. Sonata for Piano no 5 in C minor, Op. 10 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795-1797; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 17 Minutes 47 Secs. 
9. Sonata for Piano no 6 in F major, Op. 10 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796-1797; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 16 Minutes 44 Secs. 
10. Sonata for Piano no 7 in D major, Op. 10 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 23 Minutes 56 Secs. 
11. Presto for Piano in C minor, WoO 52 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: ?1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 4 Minutes 13 Secs. 
12. Sonata for Piano no 5 in C minor, Op. 10 no 1: Original Finale by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795-1797; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 2008, 2010, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 5 Minutes 07 Secs. 
Notes: Original Finale of Sonata, Op. 10 No. 1, marked Prestissimo, with longer development. Reconstructed by William Drabkin. 

Sound Samples

Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1: II. Adagio
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1: III. Menuetto: Allegretto
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1: IV. Prestissimo
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2, No. 2: I. Allegro vivace
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2, No. 2: II. Largo appassionato
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2, No. 2: III. Scherzo: Allegretto - Minore – Scherzo D.C.
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2, No. 2: IV. Rondo: Grazioso
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3: I. Allegro con brio
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3: II. Adagio
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3: III. Scherzo: Allegro - Trio – Scherzo D.C. e poi la Coda – Coda
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3: IV. Allegro assai
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7: I. Molto allegro
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7: II. Largo con gran espressione
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7: III. Allegro - Minore – Allegro D.C. 5:20
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7: IV. Rondo: Poco allegretto e grazioso
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, "Pathetique": I. Grave - Allegro di molto e con brio - Tempo I – Allegro molto e con brio – Grave – Allegro molto e con brio
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, "Pathetique": II. Adagio cantabile
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, "Pathetique": III. Rondo: Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14, No. 1: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14, No. 1: II. Allegretto - Maggiore – Allegretto D.C. e poi la Coda – Coda
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14, No. 1: III. Rondo: Allegro comodo
Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14, No. 2: I. Allegro
Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14, No. 2: II. Andante
Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14, No. 2: III. Scherzo: Allegro assai

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