Renaud & Gautier Capuçon, Gérard Caussé and Nicholas Angelich at Wigmore Hall/Brahms (1)

Sonata No.1 in G for Violin and Piano, Op.78
Piano Trio No.1 in B, Op.8
Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor, Op.60

Renaud Capuçon (violin), Gérard Caussé (viola), Gautier Capuçon (cello) & Nicholas Angelich (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 16 February, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Renaud & Gautier CapuçonThe Capuçon brothers have established an international reputation for their highly distinctive, interventionist approach to the chamber music repertoire, while also pursuing successful solo careers, and this was the first of two Wigmore Hall recitals devoted to the music of Brahms.

Many distinguished players have come to grief in the first movement of the G major Violin Sonata. The beautiful opening theme will influence the whole work and trying to make it sing soulfully at the marked Vivace ma non troppo is never easy. Renaud Capuçon chose a slow tempo and Nicholas Angelich was far too diffident. The theme didn’t sing and the pianist seemed to be – literally – staring intently at the score rather than interpreting the notes. As the movement progressed the brief, exquisite, pizzicato passage was almost inaudible and despite a powerful climax to the development, there was little real projection of personality. And while there are tempo variations marked, the performers always seemed to want to slow down and were unable to maintain a true line and any sense of tension. Whether intentional or not, come the recapitulation, the first subject was much quicker and the pulse seemed to have changed. The Adagio was very disappointing. Angelich’s playing of the beautiful opening theme was lumpy and some of Capuçon’s intonation was seriously awry. Nor did either artist convey any real sense of soul or innigkeit. As in the first movement, the tempo for the concluding Allegro molto moderato was leisurely and there was no real flow.

Nicholas Angelich. Photograph: Stéphane de BourgiesAt the start of the Piano Trio another problem arose that would colour the rest of the evening. Gautier Capuçon certainly sang the opening theme, but his vibrato was heavy and undifferentiated, and his brother’s approach was identical. Varied vibrato is a vital expressive tool, yet both artists eschewed it. Once more the tempo was very leisurely and the constant speed adjustments became rather wearying. The finest playing of the evening came in the second movement scherzo. Here there was elfin grace, an imperceptible move to the trio and a beautifully balanced account of the startlingly original ‘reprise’ that varies both themes. In the slow movement there was a sense of beauty at the expense of truth. Adagio it certainly was, but there was no depth of feeling, just a rich-gloss patina. The finale was too slow and further disfigured by unnecessary tempo changes.

After the interval the sound became rather odd. The viola-player was using varied vibrato and his partners weren’t. Angelich certainly sounded more at ease, but even when rising to fff his sound was not idiomatic for Brahms; it was rather generalised and non-descript. The overall approach was predictable – generally slow tempos, with occasional rushes of blood. Again, the most successful movement was the scherzo, which was taken at a furious tempo, but, in the slow movement, the pianist was not poetic, and for all of their honeyed tone, there was no true feeling from the strings and the finale lacked tension and rhythmic pointing.

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