Khamma stems from a commission in 1910 for an Egyptian ballet, originally entitled Isis. The project was troubled from the start when Debussy refused to reduce the orchestra from 90 to 40 players. He never heard the work, which was first given its concert performance in 1924. Bavouzet writes, ‘I discovered almost by chance in a Parisian music store, a version for piano of Khamma. This had previously escaped me so what was my surprise when I saw the richness and originality! The virtuosity required is much more subtle than the more obvious. It must give the illusion of more perfect sound levels corresponding to each specific instruments group.' In the midst of the negotiations over Khamma, Debussy wrote his second ballet Jeux, a highly complex and incomprehensible piece for two hands. Bavouzet notes, ‘In several places what Debussy wrote in the reduction for solo piano is really unplayable. The text is so thin and poor that a small part of the richness of the orchestral version is realised. It was indeed this frustration that prompted me to write some years ago, a version for two pianos today published by Durand. But for this disc I had to make a version for two hands to do justice to the score. I can say that this is probably one of the most difficult works that I have played.'Two months after the Jeux premiere, Debussy began work on his last ballet, La boîte à joujoux, based on an illustrated children's story. Debussy embraced the plot, busy ‘extracting secrets from [his daughter] Chouchou's old dolls and learning to play the side drum'. Within a month the first tableau was done, and he claimed he had ‘tried to be straightforward and even "amusing", without pretentiousness or pointless acrobatics.' The following month the piano score was complete.
Jean-Efflam concludes, ‘In my opinion the transcriptions can offer greater clarity and organisation of musical discourse. Young conductors have told me that they understood the score of Jeux better after hearing the version for two pianos... for those who do not know these three ballets in their orchestral version, this disc may give them the curiosity to explore the works further.'
'...I am convinced by his [Bavouzet] performances that this is all legitimate piano music by one of the 20th Century's great masters, heretofore almost unkown, and now presented with Chandos's top production values and recording techniques. There is not another pianist more suitable or capable of bringing this music to light.' American Record Guide
'This splendid appendage to Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's much-praised Debussy series is in man ways the most revelatory of all. In bringing together these three contemporaneous ballets, in the detailed versions for solo piano that Debussy wrote as short scores before orchestration, Bavouzet casts fresh light on a little-known area of this composer's output. The recorded sound is excellent, as with all these volumes. Enthusiastically, if superfluously, recommended.' International Piano Magazine
'...this is a marvellous disc and the climax in so many ways of Bavouzet's complete Debussy cycle.' MusicWeb International
'The fifth volume of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's survey of the complete piano music of Claude Debussy is at least as fine as the previous four, and perhaps even more interesting. Throughout this series, Bavouzet has shown himself to be not only a stupendous virtuoso -- nothing in the Études or the Préludes is technically beyond him -- but also an exemplary Debussy pianist. He knows how to blend, balance, shade, and shadow so that the music always sounds like it is by Debussy and no other composer. In this volume, Bavouzet takes on three works rarely programmed or recorded in any form and plays them in their nearly unknown piano versions: the ballets Khamma, Jeux, and La boîte à joujoux. Though the piano versions were intended only as aids for dance rehearsal and not as a substitute for the full scores, they prove wholly persuasive in these performances. Bavouzet tosses off the most challenging passages as easily as if they were five-finger exercises, but more importantly, he makes compelling cases for these rare pieces, revealing each as a fully worthy work, something at which many conductors have failed. Though no fan of the composer should be without the orchestral versions of these scores, this disc should be of interest to anyone who loves Debussy. Chandos' digital sound is warm, deep, detailed, and colorful.' AllMusic.com
Artistic Quality: 10 / Sound Quality: 10: '...This is an unusual and valuable capper to one of the two or three greatest Debussy piano cycles on disc - not to be missed.' ClassicsToday.com
Editor's Choice: 'These three works are piano versions of ballet music intended for full orchestra; Debussy never finished orchestrating Khamma and its completion was left to Charles Koechlin. But with performances on solo piano of such vivid colours, such superbly voiced textures and such flair nuance and richness of atmosphere, who needs orchestras anyway? It's magnificent playing.' Classic FM Magazine
Editor's Choice: 'A marvellous conclusion to Bavouzet's absolutely essential Debussy series. Altogether, a remarkable achievement, and the disc is every bit as essential - perhaps more so for the rarity of the repertoire - as previous instalments.' Gramophone
Performance / Recording BBC Music Magazine
'Jean-Efflam Bavouzet concludes his stellar traversal of Debussy's complete piano works with the composer's rarely heard ‘short scores' of his three late ballets. Debussy devotees will already own the orchestral versions of these works, but I highly recommend Bavouzet's accounts. He approaches the pieces on their own terms, seems to know the orchestral versions intimately and realizes every bar of the music imaginatively and effortlessly. Other versions might be competitive, but they are few and far between. What Bavouzet provides is a perfect conclusion to his complete five-disc Debussy, a remarkable achievement that I have followed from the beginning and now consider the best of all presently available. The recorded sound is exceptional and the booklet notes by Roger Nichols are, as always, concise and informed.' International Record Review
'His [Bavouzet]accounts of all three pieces are graphic and meticulous.' Sunday Times
'Bavouzet's survey of Debussy's piano music seemed to have come to a natural end with his outstanding disc of the two books of Images and the complete Studies, released by Chandos a year ago. But this collection of three scores that are far better known in their orchestral versions ... is an unexpected bonus. In all three works, Bavouzet's exceptional control, variation of touch and keyboard colour regularly provide new insights.' The Guardian