Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Prom 6: Capuçons/Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Chung - Weber, Brahms, and Stravinsky, 19 July 2011

Royal Albert Hall

Weber – Oberon: Overture
Brahms – Concerto in A minor for violin and violoncello, op.102
Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Gautier Capuçon (violoncello)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Myung-Whun Chung (conductor)

It seems that the core German repertoire is not really Myung-Whun Chung’s thing. Neither Weber’s Oberon overture nor Brahms’s Double Concerto received bad performances, but neither especially impressed – or if the latter did, it was on account of the soloists. Weber’s overture opened beautifully, the opening horn call (unconducted) as weich – the German seeming so much more apposite than ‘tender’ – as any I can recall. The rest of the introduction was very slow, yet retained its line. However, the ensuing Allegro proved too much of a contrast at breakneck speed, with an enormous slowing for the second subject that definitively turned the overture into a mere operatic pot pourri. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France played well throughout, though, clean string playing a decided boon in Weber’s brief fugato passage.

Chung’s Brahms again opened promisingly, the orchestra sounding more at home than it had during the previous night’s Beethoven Triple Concerto. There was a good sense of world-weariness, of swimming against the tide in an expansive account, which permitted one to hear and to consider a wealth of instrumental detail – this truly is the land of developing variation, whence Schoenberg hails – if ultimately there would prove to be a little too much ‘mere’ accompaniment from the podium. The richness of Gautier Capuçon’s cello tone was an immediate joy upon his entry, his brother Renaud’s violin equally delectable, once again displaying a golden-age ability so elegantly to turn a phrase. It was the soloists who performed most of the dramatic shaping, but they accomplished that most convincingly. And how they sang, whether alternately, or in duet, never more so than in the almost Elgar-like lines of the slow movement. The finale benefited from a perfectly chosen tempo, the cello’s voicing of the second theme and the violin’s response a particular joy. Greater fire from Chung would have helped, though; he sounded too relaxed. Once again, it was left to the Capuçons to provide direction, which they maintained, even intensified, in a mesmerising encore performance of the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia. It made one long for more Baroque music from this quarter.

Chung emerged as a conductor transformed for The Rite of Spring – which, notably, he conducted without a score. The OPRF sounded in its element too, from the opening, unmistakeably ‘French’-toned bassoon, to the last. I was intrigued by the way the rest of the woodwind blended with and cast into relief the bassoon to turn the Introduction into a strange variety of Harmoniemusik – at least until the intervention of a mobile telephone. Rhythms were tight throughout, but also generative, Stravinsky’s cellular method properly to the fore. (It is perhaps worth noting that Chung appeared to use Boulez’s redrawing of the bar lines.) Energy never sapped, permitting that extraordinary melodic profusion that is the Rite’s greatest boast truly to be heard, never more so than in the sage’s music. If I say that the orchestra’s playing was cultivated, then I mean it in the best sense: it was not precious, but treated the music as music rather than as an extravaganza, dynamic gradations of an almost infinite nature proving especially telling. The percussion section deserves particular note, unfailingly secure in rhythm and in the precise presentation of colour. This excellent Rite was followed by a brief, showy encore from Carmen.

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