‘In a park, at twilight, a tennis ball has got lost; a young man and two girls come looking for it. They start to play hide and seek, chase each other, quarrel and sulk...’
Created for Nijinsky, Debussy’s orchestral ‘poeme-danse’ Jeux follows no clear structural pattern, but it’s marvellously evocative, and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s two-piano arrangement – delivered with his French compatriot Francois-Frederic Guy – turned the Wigmore into a lovely simulacrum of that mysterious park, with Debussy’s peaks of excitement and troughs of sweet lassitude given palpable shape.
And this was only the aperitif: their piece de resistance was an arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – also composed for Nijinsky – in which their Steinways did yeoman service for the original massed orchestra. There were moments when Stravinsky’s horns and woodwind would have been more suited to the dramatic purpose, but this performance had gloriously earth-shattering force. Guy and Bavouzet are ideally matched in terms of virtuosity, and as they spun their chromatic webs and set up their walls of sound one could almost see Stravinsky’s processions of the ancients, and his maiden’s stamping dances.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Schubert’s last sonata over the past two years, and wish everyone – with the exception of Mitsuko Uchida - would give it a rest. That said, the young British pianist Sam Armstrong made something arresting out of the haunting and somnambulistic first movement, thanks to the expressive beauty of his sound. But like so many others he fell at the final hurdle, not finding a convincing way to render the abruptly hurtling last few bars. The high point of his recital was a pair of Bach chorale transcriptions, exquisitely played.
Directly after the French duo came another young French pianist, Bertrand Chamayou, with some Liszt plus more Debussy, and his recital was sensational. After limbering up with a full-blooded account of ‘Suite bergamasque’, he launched into ‘Feux d’artifice’ and ‘L’isle joyeuse’ with volcanic power and heady abandon. Having won his Lisztean spurs last year with a stunning recording of Annees de pelerinage, he treated us to a selection from it, winding up with a ‘Dante sonata’ whose blistering brilliance could have given Yuja Wang a run for her money. Then, with a laugh, two circus-style encores: a breath of fresh air.