Bavouzet and Noseda give us a mighty impressive overview of the Prokofiev piano concertos in this cleanly recorded set. While having all the necessary power at his disposal for big climactic moments – such as the monumental cadenza in the Second Concerto – overall, Bavouzet concentrates on the poetry and capriciousness of Prokofiev’s writing. The young composer, in Bavouzet’s hands, sounds more enfant than terrible.
The Frenchman’s light-fingered fleetness pays dividends in the First and Third Concertos, but it is in Nos Four and Five where he is truly revelatory. Previously in complete sets of these works I have had the feeling that the Fourth (for left hand only) was not terribly familiar to the musicians and that they performed it rarely in concert. In his booklet note, Bavouzet relates how he studied the piece closely at a time when his right hand was giving him trouble. (Fortunately for him – and for us – he made a full recovery.) His familiarity shows in the way he shapes musical phrases, bringing colour to a work that is sometimes regarded as grey and unmemorable. His pace is an asset in the quirky Fifth Concerto.
Bavouzet shines in places where you would expect him to: evenness in the scales of the Second Concerto’s scherzo; polish and point in the variations of the central movement of the Third. What registers most strongly, however, is his concept of each concerto as a whole. Noseda and the musicians of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra match him in pace and tone every step of the way; this
is a collaborative effort. Their performances do not compete with individual iconic recordings – Argerich’s hair-trigger responses in the Third, Richter’s power in the Fifth or Fleisher’s authority in the Fourth – rather, they complement them. Among complete sets this now becomes the top recommendation.