Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Vol 2 – review

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet
(Chandos, three CDs)

The first instalment of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's chronological journey through Beethoven's sonatas, which appeared in 2012, got as far as the end of the 18th century, and the two sonatas of Op 14. Those early works were perfectly suited to the energy and athleticism that are hallmarks of Bavouzet's playing, and to its clean articulation. Though the sonatas in this second set, which run from the B flat major Op 22 to the Waldstein Sonata Op 53, were all composed in the following five years, between 1800 and 1805 (except for the little Op 49 pair, which are earlier but were published in 1805), they open up far wider musical and expressive worlds – for those Bavouzet's approach is not always as revealing as it might be.

At its best, his playing is engaging and fresh; there's never a hint of staleness about even the most familiar music, such as the Moonlight Sonata Op 27 No 2, while in Op 22, Op 26 and Op 28, the least-often heard of the sonatas in this collection, the tightly sprung rhythms and the unfussy phrasing mean that the performances are always dynamic, always focused. But Bavouzet's accounts of the three great works of the Op 31 set and of the Waldstein (to which he also adds the original slow movement, the Andante Favori, as an appendix) are less convincing. All in their different ways need something more than svelte accomplishment; there's a sense of musical and emotional scale in the D minor Sonata Op 31 No 2 that isn't really caught here, while the long-range tensions that are so central to the Waldstein's power don't really get the attention they deserve.

While some might feel increasingly short-changed by these performances, others who admire the polish and assurance of Bavouzet's playing as well as the surface slickness that goes with it, may well enjoy every one of these performances.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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