French pianistic powerhouses Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and François-Frédéric Guy have teamed up to deliver a mega programme of works originally intended for orchestra. First premiered in 1913, all three are heard in piano form, with the shift in perspective providing new insights into the music while testing pianistic skills.
The first of Bartók’s Two Pictures sees washes of lush, whole-tone harmony and strangely winding melodies, conjuring a gorgeous, almost Debussian dream world. The reverie is over in the second picture, Village Dance. Here, Bartók indulges in heavy harmonic dissonance and exuberant folk-like melody, delivered with full force.
The tone colour of Debussy’s Jeux comes as a soothing and gentle contrast. Bavouzet and Guy manage to make their instruments sound as colourful as Debussy’s orchestra. The opening is so delicately rendered you’re left questioning if it is indeed a piano you’re hearing. Bavouzet’s transcription is an intelligent and elegant reimagining of the original.
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is the best-known work on the disc, and hence its transcription is perhaps the hardest sell. Piano four hands necessarily restrains the score’s savagery and contrapuntal melodic webs. While it might not best the original, the composer’s own transcription is the perfect vehicle for this duo’s daring virtuosity, and Bavouzet and Guy really do nail it.