Brahms – Violin Sonata no.2 in A major, op.100Bartók – Violin Sonata no.2
Beethoven – Violin Sonata no.5 in F major, op.24, ‘Spring’
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)
This proved to be an outstanding recital. The first movement of Brahms’s A major sonata was perhaps a little more tentative than the rest, Renaud Capuçon taking a little while to get into full flow, but that is really the only cavil that I can muster. Capuçon’s partner, Khatia Buniatishvili, made her presence felt straight away, spreading some of the piano chords in a way that took one back to what, despite the cliché, one can hardly but think of as a golden age of pianism. The chastity of the opening to the first movement suggested assemblage of building blocks; it was an intriguing alternative to being plunged immediately into the thick of it. If the basic tempo were a little slower, more reflective, than one often hears, that served to remind us that Brahms’s marking is not merely Allegro but Allegro amabile; I found it very convincing, and there was in any case a great deal of flexibility, not for its own sake, but with sound musical justification. Real passion was to be heard, but the hushed moments were just as telling. Once Capuçon was fully in his stride, his tone and vibrato, perfectly allied to bowing, could not have been better judged. Moreover, both players ensured that we were fully aware of the extraordinary concision of this first movement. In the second movement, Capuçon’s portamenti – never excessive, yet certainly present – and general suavity likewise put me in mind of an earlier generation of violinists: we might almost have been listening to Thibaud and Cortot. Again, the Andante tranquillo probably took a little more time than often, but in context, the tempo seemed just ‘right’. The kinship of Brahms’s piano writing with his late piano pieces sounded closer than ever, whilst the Vivace sections emerged as true trios, teeming with life yet never rushed. Brahms’s score breathed, beguiled, and most importantly, intrigued. One sensed in each phrase a wealth of possibilities which, after the event, but only after the event, could only ever have been resolved in one way: Hegel’s owl of Minerva only spreading its wings at dusk. The ghostliness of the Vivace reprise hinted at the spirit of Beethoven (the Fifth Symphony?); so did the final bloom. And there was real danger in the performance: at no point did it sound over-rehearsed, the players clearly reacting to each other. The final movement opened as if a continuation of what had gone before rather than a new beginning, yet a heightened sense of Romantic fantasy brought novelty enough. Again, the player’s admirable metrical flexibility, allied to clear motivic understanding, proved a well-nigh ideal combination. I should love to hear them in Schoenberg and Webern.