Starry performances of Ludwig van Beethoven are everywhere this year, and Salzburg has quite a few, including all the piano sonatas and the Ninth Symphony. Here the long-established duo of Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich opened their recital at the Haus für Mozart with the sunny Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op.30 no.3. The bravura of the first movement’s fast 6/8 was handled with some vigour by both players, Capuçon briskly alert in his phrasing, and Argerich not holding back on sforzandi or some steely trills. This is a three movement work in which the middle minuet does duty as a slow movement with its relaxed tempo and molto moderato e grazioso marking. A less moderate tempo might have helped here, as that grazioso also implies a more flowing dance-like mood. But Beethoven at the 100th Salzburg Festival can well be celebrated with some older style approaches, especially when the effect is so undeniably beautiful. The dashing finale though was certainly à la mode, the articulation of a lightness associated with historical performances.

Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich © Marco Borrelli
Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich
© Marco Borrelli

Lightness was one of the aims of Prokofiev in his Second Violin Sonata, or at least of its original for flute and piano. “I wanted this sonata to have a classical, clear, transparent sonority” he wrote. Much of this remains in the violin and piano version Prokofiev made with some assistance from David Oistrakh. Indeed the cool feeling of Capuçon’s opening tune – one that could be cited to support Prokofiev’s claim to be one of the supreme melodists – almost seemed to evoke the flute, even though his warm vibrato was far from restrained. The second subject had some slightly shrill tone, as Prokofiev’s classicising never fully suppresses the modernist, even in this piece. That balancing act of the composer’s is one Argerich is instinctively expert in, given Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto is one of the small group of the concertos she still plays in public. Both artists seemed to relish the metrical tricksiness of the Presto second movement, and its brilliant coda provoked a spontaneous “wow” from one audience member – and in turn a big smile from Argerich. Like the Beethoven, this work has featured in recitals the duo gave at Argerich’s Lugano Festival nearly ten years ago, and doubtless a few since. But despite the use of scores, there was no day at the office feel to it, but rather a sense of high commitment to a work they both prize.

While each of these three programmed pieces is an important sonata in the violin and piano repertoire, Franck is the only composer I can think of whose greatest, or at the least, most performed work (don’t write in), is his sole sonata for violin and piano. Its ripe (for some over-ripe) manner brings the romanticism of the Master of Bayreuth to the recital room. At least that was the mood in the slow movement, yearningly passionate in this fabulous, unbuttoned reading. Elsewhere, Capuçon, soaring and swooning by turns, was as fine an advocate of the work’s blazing power as any of its recent exponents, as was his partner – “accompanist” hardly being the word for the role of the piano in Franck’s chamber music .

Long and warm applause demanded encores which were duly given. The first, the Presto finale of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata was a generous choice, and the second, Kreisler’s Liebesleid, a surprisingly clichéd one. But the socially-distanced audience were hardly complaining at the quality these superb artists brought to them both, and to the whole programme.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.

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