Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has been immersed in the music of Maurice Ravel this week, touring the Left Hand Concerto with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, criss-crossing the country and sharing solo duties with Yeol Eum Son. I heard the latter play at Cadogan Hall on Monday, but eventually caught Bavouzet, who snuck away from the Icelanders for a Valentine’s one-night stand with the London Philharmonic. Playing the more familiar G major concerto, the Frenchman displayed all the flair and insouciance required for Ravel’s confection.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet © Benjamin Ealovega
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet
© Benjamin Ealovega

Bavouzet brought a great deal of energy to the stage, making keen eye contact with the LPO woodwind team and conductor Emmanuel Krivine. After the opening whip crack, the Allegramente rattled along, the pianist playing with the lightest touch, panache personified. Here was Ravel the dapper boulevardier, an earnest spring in his step. Bavouzet’s articulation was equally well-groomed, glissandos brushed off lightly, ending phrases with his hands shaping the air as the music floated away. The cascades of the Adagio assai billowed over Sue Böhling’s beautifully played cor anglais line, while the quicksilver runs of the jazzy finale were dashed off with style, aided by sassy E flat clarinet and leering trombone interjections. Calm was restored with a limpid Clair de lune encore. There’s nothing forced or false about this poet of the piano and the moonlit ripples cast their spell.

There was a brisk, business-like feel to the rest of the evening. Krivine, with his immaculately tailored baton technique – all wristy flicks – kept everything moving in the Pavane pour une infante défunte, a reminder that Ravel described it as “a pavane for a dead infanta, not a dead pavane for an infanta”. Krivine drew silky string playing from the LPO, but it was all a little faceless, a little sterile. The same could be said of the overture from Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel und Gretel, clipped rhythms accompanying a swift wander through the Black Forest.

Saint-Saens’ Third Symphony was given a no fuss, no frills rendition, which was refreshingly bright and breezy. “Organ Symphony” is a bit of a misnomer, as this is a symphony with occasional organ colouring rather than the virtuosic displays required in works by Félix-Alexandre Guilmant, which rather resemble a concerto in form. Catherine Edwards added pastel colours to the slow movement and there were plenty of decibels in the organ blast in the Maestoso. In the closing pages, Krivine cranked up the pomp, allowing the orchestra off the leash for a pleasing grand finale.

***11