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GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2018

D O U T R E

I N E

C A R O L

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P H O T O G R A P H Y

Renaud and Gautier Capuçon and colleagues bring ‘a near-ideal balance of urgency and patience’ to their live Brahms string sextets ensemble. Even in the most intricate passages, the six parts dovetail seamlessly, not only in terms of the smoothness of execution but in consistency of phrasing as well. Best of all, the musicians find a nearideal balance of urgency and patience – the hallmark of a great Brahms interpretation.

The opening movement of the B flat First Sextet is appropriately relaxed yet there is always an underlying sense of propulsion, so that one feels that inexorable and inevitable pull from one phrase to the next. And there’s so much character to the playing, too. Listen, for instance, to the development section, beginning around 7’30”, and how naturally it evolves from the spontaneously conversational to the passionately argumentative (at 8’20”). The slow movement is purposeful yet intensely expressive within the music’s structural and rhythmic constraints that underscore its kinship with a Baroque chaconne. Perhaps the Scherzo could have a little more verve – it’s marked Allegro molto, after all – but any misgivings are swept away by the joyful and generous lyricism of the finale.

There’s just as much to marvel at in the ensemble’s performance of the G major Second Sextet, beginning straight away with the first violin’s leaping, yearning phrases, shaped so tenderly by Renaud Capuçon. The gleaming melancholy of the Scherzo is mesmerising though ever so slightly overlit, and there’s also an edginess to the sound of the strings at the climax of the otherwise sublimely eloquent Adagio. These slight sonic imperfections are likely the product of close miking to mitigate any audience noise – though, in fact, the audience is raptly silent except for their applause, included (alas) at the end of each work. Here again, such cavils are easily cast aside. These are interpretations to savour. Andrew Farach‑Colton (6/17)

Debussy Violin Sonataa. Cello Sonatab. Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harpc. Piano Triod. Syrinxe ce Emmanuel Pahud fl adRenaud Capuçon vn ac Gérard Caussé va bdEdgar Moreau vc abdBertrand Chamayou pf cMarie-Pierre Langlamet hp Erato F 9029 57739-6 (66’ • DDD)

‘The musical genius of France is something like fantasy in sensibility’, said

Debussy, and if it’s still hard to swallow the idea that his three late sonatas were the product of a fervent wartime nationalism, the notion that these extraordinary pieces are essentially fantasies is a lot easier to accept. Especially in these captivating performances by a team of six worldfamous ‘musiciens francophones’, as the cover describes them (musical nationalism dies hard, it seems).

Because fantasy is certainly the unifying factor here. If there’s such a thing as distinctly Gallic cello-playing, Edgar Moreau’s narrow-bore sound and deft articulation surely embody it to perfection. His rubbery pizzicatos match Bertrand Chamayou’s sharply characterised pianism in the central ‘Sérénade’ to evoke a figure uncannily like Petrushka. Renaud Capuçon and Chamayou find a similar rapport in the Violin Sonata: this is a beautifully paced performance, and Capuçon is sparing with the full richness of his tone – which paradoxically makes the whole thing only more sensuous. When all three come together in the youthful Piano Trio, the combination of elegant restraint and sweet (but never exaggerated) rapture is both affecting and gently amusing.

And although none of these players appears in the Sonata for flute, viola and harp, the spirit of fantasy carries over. Gérard Caussé, in particular, can switch in a blink from velvet softness to a ringing, nasal clarity, and in the sonata’s opening ‘Pastorale’ the group’s colours and articulation vary almost by the phrase. My only reservation involves the recording. A close chamber ambience for the string pieces is replaced by a more resonant gramophone.co.uk gramophone.co.uk

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GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2018 5

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