Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley: An Outstanding Partnership

29/10/2014

 Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy, Britten. Gautier Capuçon (cello), Frank Braley (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 26.10.2014 (RB)

Beethoven – Cello Sonata in G Minor Op 5 No. 2
Schubert – Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor D821
Debussy – Cello Sonata in D Minor (1915)
Britten – Cello Sonata in C Op 65

Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley are regular chamber music partners and they have recorded three of the works performed at this concert to much critical acclaim.  It was disappointing to see so many empty seats in the concert hall given the calibre of these performers (I put it down to Sunday night blues).

 The concert opened with the second of Beethoven’s Op 5 cello sonatas which the young composer wrote in preparation for a meeting with the cello-playing King Friedrich Wilhelm II.  The slow introduction was played with a tasteful sense of Classical decorum by both players and there was a high degree of technical finish and attention to detail.  The opening section on the piano was charming and delightful and I loved the warm, velvety tone which Capuçon conjured from his Goffriller cello.  The transition to the faster material was well handled and both players struck just the right balance between the more spirited and dramatic material and the elements where greater finesse and delicacy are required.  Braley did an excellent job bringing out the Haydnesque wit of the opening of the last movement and the ongoing dialogue which emerged was highly inventive and musical.  There was an excellent rapport throughout and some moments of exquisite charm as well as bustle and liveliness.

 The Classical theme continued with Schubert’s wonderful Arpeggione Sonata which nowadays is usually played on cello or viola (although many other transcriptions exist).  I’m a huge fan of the recording by Britten and Rostropovich and I tend to use that as a yardstick with which to measure other performances.  I am delighted to say that this performance by Capuçon and Braley was very good indeed and stands comparison with that famous recording.  There was some rapt poetic rhapsodising from Braley at the start of the work while Capuçon highlighted brilliantly the vocal nature of the writing and the sense of anguish.  Both players allowed the jaunty dance material to build in a highly cultivated way and there was a sense of freshness and spontaneity to the music.  Schubert’s darker moods came through in the coda to the first movement but somehow without allowing hope to be extinguished.  The sound which Capuçon produced in the Adagio slow movement was exquisitely beautiful and almost too good to be true.  The wonderful modulations were sensitively handled and there was a real sense of heartbreak.  I also loved the sense of stillness which both players conveyed towards the end of the movement.  The high standard of the playing continued in the finale and I particularly enjoyed the high spirits and playfulness which both players brought to the dance material.

 In the second half we moved to the 20th Century with Debussy’s Cello Sonata which was composed in the Autumn of 1915.  This was one of a projected set of six sonatas which were all modelled on the French sonata of the pre-Classical period.  I loved the rich D minor sonorities which Braley evoked in the opening movement.  There was a wonderful sense of freedom and flexibility from both players and excellent responsiveness to Debussy’s vivid tone painting and multi-layered textures and sonorities.  Debussy was at one point thinking of adding the title, ‘Pierrot fâché avec la lune’ (‘Pierrot vexed with the moon’) to the second movement serenade and Capuçon excelled in depicting the fantastic nocturnal adventures with his well-judged pizzicato.  I liked the deft interplay between the performers in this movement and the elasticity of phrasing.  We moved seamlessly into the finale where both performers brought a sense of exhilaration and some nimble passage work.  There was a responsiveness and fidelity to the markings in the score and a suave Gallic charm combined with a sunny optimism.

The final work on the programme was the five-movement Cello Sonata in C which Britten wrote for his great friend Rostropovich.  The first movement was handled very cleanly here but I would have liked to hear a little more of Britten’s unique emotional fingerprints.  Both players nailed the slightly spooky quality and phantasmagoria of the second movement.  The dark colours of the third movement, with its sombre, elegiac cello line, were beautifully realised and both players succeeded in conveying the extraordinary intensity and sense of foreboding.  The fourth movement was good but I would have liked to hear a little more of the scabrous, biting quality in the music.  The last movement is a moto perpetuo and both players performed it with gusto and energy, bringing the concert to an exciting conclusion.

 The playing from both performers was absolutely superb. If you have not heard their recordings of these works, I would urge you to do so.

Robert Beattie

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