Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Capuçon-Angelich Trio at the French Embassy

You know how sometimes you go to chamber music and you wonder if you've forgotten how to enjoy it? Well, the snowy Capuçon-Angelich Trio show at the French Embassy tonight was not one of those occasions.

The program was Haydn (the "Hungarian" trio) and Shostakovich (the trio No. 2 in E Minor) before the half and Brahms (the trio in C Major of 1882) to close. I was searching for a word to describe this delightful, disarming Haydn, and the best I could come up with was "plainspoken"--which sounds kind of lame, yes, but there was something so forthright, so honest about the declamation of the piece, if you will, and particularly the violin of Renaud Capuçon. Haydn is so often reduced to the sensitive, but precious--this felt like Haydn had something to say.

The Shostakovich was the highlight of the evening, I think. What to say about this chilling, jaw-dropping, ecstatic performance? This trio understands what it is to imbue a piece with character. That is, they can traverse a fairly wide range of idiosyncratic perspectives without appearing gimmicky. And it is done with so much confidence, so much joy at finding out what makes the music tick and playing to that idea with fearless yet precise abandon, that it does not feel inconsistent. The blistering, desperate Allegro non troppo evoked a sort of dueling banjos suicide pact played by drunken peasants. The Largo was conceptual art--strange and terrifying harmonies floating in space. The finale--Death delighting in a perverse, funky little tune he has invented and getting entirely carried away with it.

As for the Brahms, well, maybe I am too picky about Brahms. The performance here had many very beautiful things and moments of real introspection, and it was miles better than the last Brahms chamber music I heard, the quintet which closed the otherwise stellar Marlboro concert last fall. But for my ear they still fell back too easily on those scourges of Brahms performance: over-emoting and the pervasive mezzo forte. I think to play really successful, interesting Brahms, one must have to go into it playing with restraint, and then double it. There is so much passion, so much heave and sigh in the music already, that anything more strikes a false note. Still very enjoyable and played with commitment, but not as much to savor as in the readings of the Haydn and Shostakovich.

Hope to see more of them in the future...

Update: A positive assessment from Charles Downey is up here...


Una furtiva lagrima said...

I adore Renaud's yearning violin, especially when it sighs with the music of Korngold and Brahms and Debussy..

His EMI disc, Capriccio, is a cherished possession.


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