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Les Frères Capuçon, Shriver Hall

Gautier CapuçonRenaud Capuçon
When Martha Argerich actually performs these days, reviewers tend to fall all over themselves to praise her. I can't blame them, as I would probably trade a significant part of my anatomy to hear her play. In a post last summer, I translated part of a French review of a rare Argerich concert. On this concert at the Festival International de Piano de la Roque d'Anthéron, in southern France, she played Beethoven's Triple Concerto with two young musicians whose names I had heard but not much more. Naturally, when Shriver Hall presented a recital by those two players, violinist Renaud Capuçon and cellist Gautier Capuçon, I felt compelled to make the trip up to Baltimore Sunday afternoon. Sadly, a scheduling mishap meant that Jens was not able to go along, and he still hasn't forgiven me.

I suspected that Argerich's mantle indicated great talent in those upon whose shoulders it rested, and I was not disappointed. The two young Frenchmen are brothers born in Chambéry, the former seat of the Dukes of Savoie up in the French Alps. The program featured four pieces in that rare genre, duets for unaccompanied violin and cello, further organized around the theme of gypsy and general folk music. This is music for the connoisseur, not a single piece that could be called truly popular, and in fact it was the first time that I had heard any of these pieces performed live. As for many in the largely unfilled hall, most of these pieces came as a revelation in the hands of these talented players.

Also on Ionarts:

Kremerata Baltica at Shriver Hall (May 3, 2005)

Takács Quartet and Garrick Ohlsson at Shriver Hall (October 4, 2005)
They began with the Duo for Violin and Cello (1925) by Ervin Schulhoff (1894-1942). This Czech composer, not unlike George Enescu or Ernst Krenek or Bohuslav Martinů, absorbed all kinds of influences in a sort of polystylistic kaleidoscope. Sadly, as both a Jew and a communist, Schulhoff was quickly arrested by the Nazis and sent to die at the Wülzberg camp in Bavaria. He wrote this piece when he was particularly taken with the music of another Ionarts favorite, Leoš Janáček. A folksy, pentatonic melody dominates the first movement and returns in later ones. This dreamy theme is contrasted with fiery gypsy music in the second movement, filled with bends, glissandi, finger pizzicati, and daring spiccato play. All of this technically demanding work was performed with dash and aplomb by the Capuçons, but it was the third movement that really struck me. With mutes on, the violin and cello traded a melancholy melody and a pizzicato accompaniment figure. Cellist Gautier, the younger brother (at 25 or almost, he is five years younger than Renaud), made a gorgeous high sound on the A string of his 1701 Matteo Goffriler. This was a delicate, spectral sound world.

Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Shriver Hall, January 29, 2006You would have thought that the next piece, Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-22), would have been out of place in a program of eastern European composers. However, dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, this piece is not your father's Ravel, with sounds that we might expect more in Bartók or Stravinsky. In fact, when he was working on this piece, Ravel was closely following the composition and folksong research that Bartók was doing in Hungary. He was also studying the Kodály violin-cello duo, which closed this concert. In the opening allegro, Ravel presents a soft, pastoral folk theme in a sort of overlapping stretto that ends on a calm set of shining triads. Gypsy sounds not unlike what we heard in the Schulhoff invade the second movement, with its pulsating Stravinskian rhythms. Both the sad beauty of the third movement and the exciting drive of the last impressed.

Instead of the scheduled third piece -- Gideon Klein's Duo for Violin and Cello -- the Capuçon brothers substituted a little Ionarts bonbon, Bohuslav Martinů's Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello, one of the last pieces he composed, in 1958. (He had written one other piece for this combination of instruments, some thirty years before.) These three movements were commissioned by a musicologist in Basel, as a gift for his wife's name day, and they are over pretty quickly but not without much diversion for the ear. Martinů also uses a folklike melody, over a cello drone in the short first movement. The rush to the piece's ecstatic conclusion was exciting to hear.

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Renaud Capuçon and Gautier Capuçon, Face à face (duos for violin and cello), released July 8, 2003
For the final work we returned to Hungary for Zoltan Kodály's Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7, a much more substantial work. Here again, the Capuçons showed their grasp of the most difficult technical demands and tonal coloring. Renaud excelled on the strong E string passages, over the rumbling figures of the cello in the second movement. Again, it was the musicality of the duo's soft, sustained playing that was the most appealing, but the final, hushed measures of the second movement were unfortunately destroyed by the loud snore of a sleepy member of the audience. An encore of Johan Halvorsen's Passacaille after Handel's Keyboard Suite No. 7 -- unannounced but identified by deduction -- was a tour de force of virtuosic playing. You can hear it yourself as the first track on their 2003 CD, Face à face. It's a jaw-dropper as an encore, with the mesmerizing repetition of the Baroque ostinato and enough divisions and harmonic surprises to make your head spin.

Looking at the schedule of upcoming concerts at Shriver Hall, we are going to be driving up to Baltimore a lot in the next couple months. The Vienna Piano Trio (February 26, 5:30 pm), Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI (March 19, 5:30 pm), Krystian Zimerman (April 7, 8 pm), Leon Fleisher (April 8, 8 pm), Fazil Say (April 9, 3 pm), and Angela Hewitt (May 14, 7:30 pm) are all well worth your while.

The Baltimore Sun allowed 112 words to give their readers a review of this concert. Scroll down to the bottom of the article -- by Tim Smith on January 31, covering several concerts together -- to find it. That is the only other review I have seen.

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