French stars of Young Concert Artists (YCA) at Florence Gould Hall

This Wednesday, the French Institute Alliance Francause (FIAF) presented a concert featuring French stars of Young Concert Artists (YCA). In over 50 season, the YCA, founded by Susan Wadsworth, has helped emerging artists to launch their careers. Former price laureates include Dawn Upshaw, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Emmanuel Ax, etc.

Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and the Modigliani Quartet were sharing the bill tonight. A laureate of YCA back in 1986, Bavouzet was just back from a north American tour while the Quartet will be heard in Australia and Japan later this year.

The Modogliani opened with Haydn’s quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 76 No. 4 (“Sunrise”). The four (very) young men (Philippe Bernhard, Loïc Rio, Laurent Marfaing, and François Kieffer) revealed, with great delight, the warm colors of the Allegro con spirito. The sound was rich and balanced (especially during the imitative section of the Finale). The Adagio showed that they were as comfortable in slow tempi, and their sober lyricism finished to convince the audience that they are not a young sensation, but an already mature formation. I would love to hear them in a more recent repertoire (a Glass quartet? Different Trains?).

Modigliani Quartet

The next piece on the program was a refreshing and almost tongue-in-cheek transition, introduced by Bavouzet himself: Hommage à Haydn by Debussy. The pianist gave a few historical notes and put the piece in context, stressing the differences between Debussy’s and Ravel’s musical idiom, that some people tend “to put in the same basket” (sic). The bridge was then crossed and the next three pieces were taken from the Book 1 of Debussy’s Images: Reflets dans l’eau, Hommage à Rameau, Mouvement. In very few pieces, Bavouzet proved to be a remarkable performer of Debussy’s music. I enjoyed his beautiful colors, his phrasé, his precision, and his fluid (liquid) agility—paramount for a piece like Reflets dans l’eau. The motoric Movement, was really exciting and the French pianist gleefully activated all the registers of the instrument while never jeopardizing clarity or elegance.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet by Paul Mitchell

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet by Paul Mitchell

The last piece on the program brought all the performers together on stage: César Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor, M. 7. I was never a huge fan of César Franck and even though it was a precious moment I wished they had picked something else to fill the second half. What about hiring a clarinetist to play Copland’s Sextet :) ?

A year and a half ago I reviewed another concert presented by the Alliance Française and the same concluding thought came to my mind tonight: the program was very clever, the performers stunning, but I wish that more people knew about these concerts at the Florence Gould Hall. Overall the audience was very Francophone/phile but it surely deserves a wider reach.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet recorded the entire piano works by Debussy (and Ravel) for Chandos. Check them out…