Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

Gautier Capuçon: the ultimate romantic for a romantic program of cello and piano

Jérôme Ducros;
​Photo credit: ​​Jean-Baptiste Millot

Gautier Capuçon;
​Photo credit: © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Martin Argyroglo

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON April 29th 2018

Last night at Koerner Hall, French superstar cellist Gautier Capuçon along with piano partner Jérôme Ducros performed a program of the music of Romantic composers: Fauré, Massenet, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. To say that Capuçon is a superstar is not to overstate. Not only does he have the musical chops and the resumé to go along with the title, but he exudes that love for what he is doing in every look of his intense gaze and in his correspondingly mysterious body language that whispers confidence in all he is doing.

Both Capuçon and Jérôme Ducros are common fixtures on the world stage, performing regularly in Europe’s most famous festivals and as soloists, chamber musicians and with orchestras around the world. Immediately following last night’s concert they travelled to Santa Monica California for a concert today.

Both halves of the program began with short oft-performed and familiar works leading to a major offering. In the first half, it was Gabriel Fauré’s Élégie, op. 24 that opened the program. The long sombre lines that build to a climax of passion evoked a romantic spirit that would continue throughout the program. It was followed by the ever-popular Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet. Here the sweet sensuousness of the melody coming from the cello showed off the rich tone of the 1701 Matteo Gofriller cello.

It was in the Brahms Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, op. 38 that the partnership of Capuçon and Ducros was at its height of artistry. The opening sombre melody in the cello followed by the same melody on piano had matching contours. The thick harmonies on the piano often cover the cello in this work. Here, there was a balance. Instead of a competition or heated argument between the cello and piano, it was more conversational with perhaps a few lover’s spats.

Brahms wrote this work over a three-year period from age 29. He was already seen by critic Adolf Schubering as “one completely equal to Bach, Beethoven and Schumann”. The work is a homage to Bach and the fury of the finale’s three-part fugue linked the piano and cello with the historical musical lineage, while embracing a romantic passion. Capuçon and Ducros grasped it and delivered a thrilling performance.

In the second half, it was Tchaikovsky’s familiar Andante cantabile in D Major that set up the main event, Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, op. 19. The familiar lyricism of Tchaikovsky contrasted the dazzling virtuosity displayed in the Rachmaninov.  Once again, the performers took charge of a masterpiece so that it became symphonic in its grandeur, or should I say in its ‘concerto’ proportions as it was written in the same year as his monumental 2nd Piano Concerto. It was the elegiac-like third movement (Andante) that I found especially moving, the same third movement that TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson played so well as an encore with Stéphane Denève last month (see review here).

Even the encores continued in a romantic vein with The Swan by Saint-Saëns and a work by pianist Ducros reminiscent of Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. The vibrant sound and musical line of The Swan was in striking contrast to the lightning speed of the Ducros offering. The audience was standing and shouting like a teenage audience at an Idol TV show. There was romantic love going both ways.

It was gratifying to know that Capuçon will be back next year with pianist Yuja Wang in a Koerner Hall Series concert on April 13th 2019 and will be recording in Koerner Hall while in Toronto. Capuçon was here several years ago for a TSO performance along with his brother Renaud Capuçon performing Brahms' Double Concerto, but this was his first visit to Koerner Hall. As far as I can tell, this was the first visit to Toronto for Ducros.

Arriving early and staying late provided musical treats by students of the Glenn Gould School. Second-year pianist Godwin Friesen performed a recital in Mazzoleni Hall that included Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Lizst’s Vallée d’Obermann. Following the concert, graduating student Antoine Laporte entertained in the lobby of Koerner Hall to a small gathering of night owls.

Toronto Concert Reviews will next be at Koerner Hall on Sunday, May 13th at 3 pm for an Invesco Piano Concert Series performance by Yuja Wang. This much anticipated performance is sold out.