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Capuçon and Montero at the LoC

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Prokofiev / Rachmaninov, Cello Sonatas, G. Capuçon, G. Montero
Martha Argerich has placed her mantle over the shoulders of many young performers, often going to great lengths to defend them. She has championed both of the frères Capuçon, violinist Renaud and cellist Gautier, as well as the remarkable Venezuelan-American pianist Gabriela Montero, and Argerich is apparently also responsible for bringing together Montero and Gautier Capuçon as a a cello-piano duo. They came to the Library of Congress on Tuesday night to perform both pieces from their only CD together, the indicatively titled Rhapsody from 2008.

The best side of both performers was shown in the opening work, Prokofiev's C major cello sonata, op. 119, a burnished, inwardly focused piece created in the last few years of the composer's life, for Mstislav Rostropovich (and premiered by the latter with Sviatoslav Richter). Capuçon's growling tone suited the low-set opening theme of the opening movement, and Montero's insistent attack on pulsating repeated notes unsettled the more lyrical second theme. The second movement had a circus-like grotesquerie in the A section, more jokey than sardonic, while the B section wallowed a bit in smarmy rhapsody (there is that CD title again). The third movement leaped with Haydenesque jollity, although Capuçon's rough-hewn, full-throated tone maxed out before the climax of the piece, leaving him only more urgent head tossing as an expressive device.

There was a long seating interval after the Prokofiev, as many concert-goers, delayed by an unusually slow security check that evening (security was unusually tight around the performers' area, too), finally were able to take their seats. (Capuçon jokingly made himself comfy, leaning against the piano while Montero quipped musically with the theme from the television quiz show Jeopardy.) Mendelssohn's second cello sonata (D major, op. 58), not featured on the CD, was best in its exciting outer movements, taken at very fast tempi, and mostly due to the brilliant fingerwork on the piano part. Montero's precise and sweeping figuration provided whitewater swells that Capuçon rafted upon, with some whiffs of Argerich-like impetuosity with the rhythmic pacing here and there.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Gautier Capuçon and Gabriela Montero: Opposites attract (Washington Post, November 11)
The tone of Capuçon's cello -- one assumes it was the 1701 Matteo Goffriller that is his main instrument -- ravishes some listeners, but he has a tendency, especially in the long, arching lines of Romantic pieces, to close his eyes and with a (self-consciously?) dreamy expression wrench a raspy, even buzzing sound from it, so fraught with anguished vibrato that one loses the center of the pitch. This tendency was heard at various points all night long but was at its worst in the already overwrought Rachmaninov cello sonata (G minor, op. 19). The second movement, in its manic recollection of Schubert's Der Erlkönig providing the best part of this overly saccharine work, was taken a little too fast for the Allegro scherzando marking, and much of the musical detail was lost in the rush. As for the syrupy third movement and the interminable fourth, let us just say that we much preferred the way Steven Isserlis played it earlier this year. Hopes for some Gabriela Montero improvisations were dashed with an encore of yet more Rachmaninov, the utterly predictable but still quite lovely Vocalise.

If you missed this concert, Capuçon and Montero will perform again this Sunday (November 14, 5:30 pm) at Shriver Hall in Baltimore: even better, the Rachmaninov will be replaced by Grieg's A minor cello sonata. The next free concerts at the Library of Congress include a lecture-recital by violinist Nicolas Kitchen and the Borromeo Quartet, comparing various forms of music technologies, on Saturday afternoon (November 13, 2 pm) and a concert by the Doric String Quartet next Friday (November 19, 8 pm), noteworthy because the program includes one of Korngold's string quartets.

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