Oberon – Overture
Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op.102
The Rite of Spring
Renaud Capuçon (violin) & Gautier Capuçon (cello)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Reviewed by: Chris Caspell
Reviewed: 19 July, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
For its second BBC Prom, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Myung-Whun Chung welcomed the brothers Capuçon. Written just a few years after his Violin Concerto, Brahms’s Double Concerto of 1887 was slow to find favour with audiences in Germany and further afield. Not so now. The work has been heard on fifty-one occasions since its first Prom performance in 1900. The concerto owes much to Brahms’s chamber music, most noticeably his C minor Piano Trio (Opus 101), completed in the summer of 1886, something not lost on the Capuçons whose skilful handling of the conspicuously exposed opening was a reminder of their chamber-music pedigree. Orchestra and conductor accompanied well and never overpowered the soloists’ performance. The warm string sonorities aided an interpretation that was more Brahms the romantic than Brahms the classicist. Unfortunately this ultra-lush, full-blown sound made the performance sound laboured; the first two movements suffered as a result. The finale started well, but by the recapitulation the brisk, off-the-string playing had reverted to that of the other movements.
For an encore, the brothers displayed a joie de vivre that had been impossible in the concerto with a sparkling performance of Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G minor on a theme of Handel, taken from his Harpsichord Suite in the same key (HWV432) and was originally written for violin and viola (but who cares!). It was a favourite of Heifetz and Piatigorsky.
After the interval a mixed bag of rites was handed out in a performance of Stravinsky’s third ballet (no edition stated, there are several) written for Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes. Much has been written about the riot-causing first-performance in 1913. This account never had the energy to move the audience very far. At the end the only reason the Promenaders were on their feet was because they started out that way. The infamous high-bassoon opening was well executed but let down by a follow-on lacking contrast and eventually settling into a musical mash miles from the composer’s angular and pagan concept. Some precision brass interjections and a notable horn solo lifted Part Two somewhat, scuppered at the end of ‘Procession of the Sage’ by the conductor miscounting bars: an elementary mistake. The introduction to Part Two was equally messy with wind parts at variance to other orchestra members. Overall, the performance, not noticeably under tempo, was again, laboured.
The concert opened with a technically adept if soulless rendition of the Overture to Weber’s final opera and closed with a showy belted-through Prelude to Act One of Bizet’s Carmen, the same extra offered in 2008 when Chung and his orchestra were at the Proms.