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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Review of the New CD by the Capucons

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 102 (1887) [34:25]

Clarinet Quintet in b minor, Op. 115 (1891) [37:10]

Renaud Capuçon (violin)

Gautier Capuçon (cello)

Paul Meyer (clarinet)

Aki Saulière, violin

Béatrice Muthelet, viola

Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester

Myung-Whun Chung

Double concerto recorded from 8-10 April, 2007 at the Vienne Musikverein. Clarinet Quintet recorded from 9-10 July 2007 in the Eglise du bon Secours, Paris.

VIRGIN CLASSICS 946 395147 2 [72:21]

Brahms composed his “double” concerto as a token of reconciliation between his longtime friend and mentor Joseph Joachim. The two had not spoken for years after Brahms sided with Joachim’s wife in a divorce dispute. The gesture worked, as this, Brahms’ last orchestral work not only healed the rift, but left to the world a composition of profound beauty and structural perfection. As oft recorded as it is, it takes some special musicians to bring it to life in any remarkable way. Such musicians are the brothers Capuçon, whom I had already held in high regard before hearing this performance, but now that I have heard it, am able and willing to declare that these two siblings are two of the finest, most technically refined and most emotionally inspired performers on the planet.

Over the years, I have collected a couple of dozen recordings of this work. In particular, the second movement with its plaintive yet uplifting theme is music that has always haunted me. I was hooked by the end of the first movement, which the Capuçons play with white hot intensity. But when the second movement ended I nearly had to pick myself up off the floor. I have never in thirty years of serious music listening heard more expressive, passionate yet thoroughly controlled playing. These brothers play so fluidly, so eloquently that any listener that doesn’t ache when they’ve finished should have his blood pressure checked.

Adding to the luster of the soloist’s work is a young orchestra that plays with the kind of condensed abandon that can only come from the combined joy of great accomplishment and a first experience with greatness. This is a truly fine band, molded and beautifully fine tuned by Myung-Whun Chung.

The concerto alone would be worth the price of admission, but we are also given a sublime performance of one of Brahms’ most serenely melodic works, the Clarinet Quintet from 1891. Written during his final years in Meiningen, the quintet was dedicated to Richard Mühlfeld, a virtuoso whom the composer much admired, and for whom he composed a number of his last works. The music is almost exclusively inward looking, calm and collected and carried out with the confidence of a man at peace with himself and the world.

The performance here is perfection, indeed flawless. Paul Meyer literally sings with his instrument, producing a full throated yet never piercing tone that weaves itself in and out of textures with just the right nuance, often a soloist, but never a diva. This is one of the finest recordings of the year, truly a must have regardless of how many times this repertoire is duplicated in your collection. You will finish these performances with no recollection of having breathed through the whole seventy-two minutes.

-Kevin Sutton

-there is but one word to describe this kind of music making: perfect.

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