The first volume of Bavouzet’s projected traversal of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas was an unqualified triumph, the only question-mark being how he could maintain such a standard – mature in vision yet fresh in impulse – across such a challenging and diverse corpus of music.

With this second instalment of his chronological survey, covering Beethoven’s development of sonata form from his early classical phase to the grander designs of his middle period, the French pianist again justifies the faith Chandos has placed in him for such a significant recording project. Starting with the Sonata in B flat major Op. 22 and ending with the “Waldstein” Sonata Op. 53 and “Andante favori”, Bavouzet proves he has the elegance for the early sonatas and the pianistic command for Beethoven’s larger forms.

Occasionally the question-mark resurfaces. In his refusal to lard the early sonatas with interpretative point-making, Bavouzet is in danger of losing sight of their individual sound-world. The “Grande Sonate” Op. 26, for example, needs subtler dynamic contrasts and a more flexible handling of the first movement’s variation form, just as the “Sonata quasi un fantasia” could have profited from a lighter touch: the upper keys rarely sing.

These are minor quibbles, for most of this set finds Bavouzet at his considerable best. The “Moonlight” radiates mystery and momentum, the “Tempest” has fabulous intensity (and a graceful touch), while the “Waldstein” is treated to a performance of unmitigated rapture. Roll on Volume Three.


Piano Sonatas Vol 2

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

(Chandos, 3 CDs)

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