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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto [39:51]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto [27:23]
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Daniel Harding
rec. ORF RadioKulturhaus, Vienna, 19, 21-22 December 2011
VIRGIN CLASSICS 9733962 [67:14]

Experience Classicsonline

After his interpretation of the Beethoven and Korngold concertos, Renaud Capuçon now combines another pair of concertos, one amongst the most popular of all, the other a little less so. Comparing the two discs directly, this latter one benefits enormously from the peerless orchestral playing of the Vienna Philharmonic which is in a different class to that of the Rotterdamers, fine as they were. The recorded sound is also top notch and, when you match this with such fine performances, this disc is on to a winner.
Capuçon’s playing is a delight throughout. At the soloist’s entry in the Brahms concerto, he strides onto centre-stage with defiance but quickly allows the orchestra to tame his stridency so that within seconds the violin’s tone is purring and beautiful. His take on the first subject is already serene and contemplative. He allows a lovely portamento to creep into his playing style that isn’t quite a glissando but which allows him to move between notes in a manner that I found most alluring. His technical skill is exemplary but it’s always used in a manner to accentuate the beauty of the music. The double-stopping at the beginning of the development, for example, is sweet-toned and persuasive. His cadenza (Kreisler’s) is astonishing, especially the trills which surround his recall of the second subject and the triple-stopped undulations that bring it to an end are truly remarkable. The violin’s rapt contemplation of the main theme in the Adagio is lovely too, and the acrobatics of the finale are as exhilarating as you would expect. Harding’s direction is secure and he controls the long span of the opening movement well, though he seems to hold something back in the coda, diminishing the effect of the final bars. His pacing of the beautiful oboe theme of the great Adagio, however, was a touch too fast for my taste; for once, the oboe felt a little exposed against its background. However, the energy of the finale is infectious, and the closing bars sound appropriately final.
The Berg concerto is just as well played. The inwardness of the music is reflected in playing that is more reflective and suggestive than the Brahms. The opening arpeggios, for example, sound almost as though they are lightly veiled. This half-lit sonority gives this performance of the concerto a special character of its own. Capuçon’s playing is by turns reflective and vigorous. Compare the dreamy lightness of the violin’s tone at the very opening with the vigorous passage work around the three-minute mark of the first movement. He is in love with this work, something he makes clear in the brief essay he writes for the booklet note, and his affection for it comes through with every lovingly crafted phrase. The orchestra feels smaller here, sounding more like a tight-knit body than a full-scale symphony orchestra. The winds, frequently playing as soloists, sound intimate and close, while the strings could almost be an augmented quartet, so delicate and communicative is the quality of their sound. Even at the big tutti moments the Vienna Philharmonic shape their sound to match the character of the work they are bringing to life. Harding helps this by shading the sound oh-so-carefully as each episode gives way to the next. The first part is allowed to come gently to its close before the second erupts like a psychodrama. The ensuing two minutes is as nerve-shredding as you’ll find, before, in its turn, yielding to a lovely interplay between the violin and the orchestral winds. When the Bach quotation comes it is built delicately into the texture and helps to move the music forward so that it culminates in a transcendentally lovely final chord.
In his booklet essay Capuçon praises the “distinctive, luminous sonority” of this orchestra. In that sense alone this is an almost ideal partnership of soloist and orchestra. Elsewhere the booklet tells us that “interested collectors have until now looked for [the Berg concerto] in the Vienna Philharmonic’s discography practically in vain.” This recording shows that the wait was worthwhile.
Simon Thompson 

Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto

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