Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

Ravaged by the French

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet
Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

This past weekend we went back to San Francisco for a concert by the San Francisco Symphony, a gift from the French: music from Bizet‘s Carmen Suites (1874), Ravel‘s 1930 Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet playing), and Saint-Saëns‘ 1886 Symphony No. 3, Opus 78, the Organ Symphony (Jonathan Dimmock at the console). The conductor for the evening was Yan Pascal Tortelier. James M. Keller presented the Inside Music talk before the concert.

Yan Pascal Tortelier
Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier

Keller’s pre-concert talks are always astonishingly informative, especially for this concert as, regrettably, I knew very little about these 3 major French composers. I had no idea Bizet died so young (just 37), that Saint Saëns lived to be so old (think of his being born while the world still mourned Beethoven and died after the Rite of Spring) and that he seemed to know everyone. I also didn’t know that the organ in Davies Hall is the largest (147 ranks) in any US concert hall.

Yes, the concert was stupendous. All 3 works are among my favorites and were performed with the characteristic vitality and precision of the San Francisco Symphony. I hung on ever note, every phrase, every moment.

The Bizet featured the extraordinary giftedness of the woodwind players of the San Francisco Symphony. The clarinetist is nothing less than a god! And the double reeds gifted us with the most musical performances one can imagine.

The Ravel just slew me. While the piece is for the left hand alone, at one point Bavouzet had to grab the piano with his right hand to keep from toppling from the bench as he hurled himself into the instrument with a dramatic vigor that ripped the audience from our seats. Dear god! This performance! Powerful and brooding! Larger than life! Intricate and musical! Simply electrifying!

The Organ Symphony was also fantastic in every detail, propelling the audience to their feet yet again. Could the brass sustain that last chord for a single second longer without falling dead from the stage?! This was beyond gargantuan.

I have to say that this has been my favorite performance of the Symphony since first hearing them about 5 years ago. The selected repertoire for the evening was exceptionally delightful, and the performances were each beyond what I could have possibly expected from even this world class symphony.

Bravo, indeed!