Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Festival de Pâques - Brahms Quintets - 04/28/19

Brahms: String Quintet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 88 
Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111 
Brahms: Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 
Renaud Capucon: Violin 
Guillaume Chilemme: Violin 
Raphaëlle Moreau: Violin 
Gérard Caussé: Viola 
Gautier Capuçon: Cello 
Edgar Moreau: Cello 
Nicholas Angelich: Piano

On our second evening in Aix, fresh from a wonderful one-hour concert featuring unusual instrument combinations at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, my mom and I took a reasonably brisk walk down the regal cours Mirabeau and the bustling Allées Provençales to the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud for our last, but by no means least, concert of the evening, and of our 2019 Festival de Pâques. It had been another lovely and busy spring day for us in the former capital of Provence, and the prospect of hearing more chamber music by Brahms, this time performed by Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, among others, in the acoustically flawless music venue sounded like the perfect ending to a perfect stay.
Catching the brothers together is a rare feat these days as their respective careers have steadily taken off and they’re now in high demand around the globe, including New York City where I had the privilege of hearing Gautier at Carnegie Hall a couple of times. In fact, I had to give up my ticket to his recital with Yuja Wang there the previous week in order to make my trip to France work. But at least my mom and I caught a couple of minutes of him playing live in front of Notre-Dame the morning after the heart-breaking fire on her computer screen, and now we were on our way to hear him and his brother perform a few feet from us. So all was well in the world again.
That said, our tight schedule did entail some sacrifices, and our between-concert dinner consisted in three and a half (admittedly decadent) madeleines each in a part of town where excellent restaurants can be found around every corner. Not to worry though, as being able to squeeze in a pre-concert glass of champagne on the terrace outside the conservatoire definitely helped cushion the blow and put us in an even more festive mood. Onward and forward!

The first thing that the packed audience noticed when the first group of musicians appeared on the stage for Brahms’ String Quintet No. 1 was that Gautier Capuçon was not among them. But once the vibrant music started filling up the hall, we just as spontaneously turned our undivided attention to it and  ̶  temporarily at least  ̶  stopped fretting. Starting in his signature Romantic mood, then moving into unusual Baroque territory, before concluding with a spirited Beethovian finale, the composition was an engaging combination of a little bit of de rigueur seriousness and a lot of youthful fun, and so was the performance of it.
Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2 was tackled by the same well-rounded line-up next, and about just as brilliantly as they did the first one too, starting right at the beautifully soaring, unambiguously exhilarating opening. Things only got better as we were moving along the four movements with remarkable clarity, unfailing precision and full colors, all the way to the exuberant Gypsy style-inspired finale.
After intermission, our patience was finally rewarded when we realized that the best in terms of composition and company had obviously be saved for last, and it was amazingly good indeed. Scored for two violins, viola and two cellos and routinely considered one of Brahms’ masterpieces, the Piano Quintet was dedicated to Her Royal Highness Princess Anna of Hesse. And the fact is, back in Aix’s Conservatoire Darius Milhaud that evening, the interpretation coming from the stage did sound worthy of royalty indeed.
With an assertive kick-off by all five musicians in impressive unison, the first movement opened in all its beauty, vigor and complexity, and the rest of the piece just kept unfolded with unperturbed virtuosity. On the other hand, Brahms being Brahms, even at its most joyful, triumphant or dreamy, the mood could not help but have an underlying notion of melancholy. Needless to say, witnessing the Capuçons’ seamless connection live was the highlight of our evening, even when pianist Nicholas Angelich effortlessly joined in. In all fairness, the entire ensemble was praise-worthy though, as much for their commitment as in their technique, and the result was a truly exciting performance that left us wanting for more.

Alas, “more” was not meant to be as, after few curtain calls by the entire group of musicians, Renaud Capuçon signaled to us that the time had come to go to sleep. So that’s what we did, after one last leisurely walk into the live painting that had become the elegantly lit cours Mirabeau by night.

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