Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 Berg
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 19, 21 & 22 December 2011 in ORF RadioKulturhaus, Vienna
CD No: VIRGIN CLASSICS 7 33962 5 Duration: 67 minutes Reviewed: September 2012
Renaud Capuçon plays Violin Concertos by Brahms and Berg [VPO/Harding; Virgin Classics]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The violin concertos by Brahms and Berg go well together. Both are passionate works, the former virile and confiding, the latter offering similar qualities if within an unorthodox structure and inspired by loss.
Daniel Harding takes a spacious view of Brahms’s opening tutti, relishing all the opulence that the Vienna Philharmonic has to offer, if speeding up (not entirely convincingly) for the run into the soloist’s first entry. Renaud Capuçon seems satisfied with this. In an account of the first movement that is kept on the move, and is compelling in its intensity, Capuçon brings plenty of heroics as well as a sweet singing line to lyrical episodes. Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza, contrapuntally rich, is a welcome alternative to the ‘standard’ one by Joseph Joachim, the original recipient of the concerto. The slow movement follows almost immediately; a much longer gap is needed; this seems like poor post-production. We arrive too soon but are nevertheless beguiled with some very expressive oboe playing, to which Capuçon spins an aching line of confession, balanced by a finale of paprika-flavoured panache that completes a spontaneous-sounding rendition made under studio conditions.
Events fortuitous and tragic corresponded to stir Alban Berg into writing his Violin Concerto. In February 1935 Louis Krasner commissioned the work, and in the April Manon, daughter of Alma (Mahler’s widow) and Walter Gropius, died at age 18 from polio. Berg was shocked and poured his feelings into this rigorous yet deeply moving concerto that is dedicated “To the memory of an angel”. Berg himself died in the December from blood poisoning, aged 50, so – with hindsight – the concerto may be thought of as his own requiem.
Capuçon and Harding, together with an orchestra that is particularly receptive to Berg’s music, give a performance at once eloquent and considered. The music’s hurt, description, emotional power and otherworldliness is fully realised, and the final bars, once J. S. Bach’s chorale ‘Es ist genug!’ (It is enough!) has been quoted from and elaborated upon, is particularly poignant. Unfortunately there are some balance problems, mostly because Capuçon covers more-important details in the orchestra: such as the trumpet solo in the first movement (3’23-3’30) – with the timpani lacking bite between 10’58 and 11’00 – and the saxophone outburst (here tame) in the second (0’40-0’49). The instruments can be heard but not prominently enough, although there are many more instances where clarity and meaningful interaction win through.
If gaps between movements, and works, seem arbitrary and mostly too short – save the virtual attacca between Brahms’s Adagio and finale, which is convincing whether intentional or not(!) – there is much to admire and return to here, not least because the musicians seemed to ignore the red light when it was switched on. Primed and ready to ‘go for it’, these performances live this music to the full.