Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's Haydn is not for delicate sensibilities. The pianist devoted the first half of his French Embassy recital on Thursday to this 18th-century master, playing with technique as dazzling as it was uncompromising.
At bracing tempos and with the volume cranked up high, Bavouzet performed two of Haydn's sonatas (Hob. XVI/32 and 46) and the Andante With Variations in F Minor (Hob. XVII/6), with emphatic, almost staccato attack. Even in slow movements, he phrased with such objective logic that these scores took on an X-ray clarity. This was Haydn that looked back to the baroque as much as it looked forward to Beethoven.
After intermission it was all Ravel, beginning, appropriately, with his "Menuet sur le Nom d'Haydn," and continuing with "Menuet Antique" and Sonatine. With their roots in the classical era, these three works prompted a similarly rigorous, clear-eyed approach from Bavouzet.
But in Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit," which closed the program, the pianist revealed a different side of his personality. With finger work no less thrilling and articulation no less precise than in the earlier works, there was now evocative light and shade and an understated elegance. Bavouzet enrobed "Ondine" in a luminous cloud, found the desolation in "Le Gibet" and summoned a fine, demonic growl for "Scarbo."
Bavouzet, refreshingly, is a pianist who fits no predictable molds.