While the deaths of Nelson Freire and Radu Lupu filled musicians and music lovers with emotion, their advanced ages lent a level of acceptance to their demise. In contrast, Nicholas Angelich and Lars Vogt have died in their early 50s. That’s not an age to die, when we think of the life that should have been to come with their families and friends, everything they had still to give to the world.

Concert tribute to Lars Vogt at the Philharmonie de Paris
© Joachim Bertrand

This evening, the Orchestre de chambre de Paris celebrated a creature of light, a fireball of energy, a musician whose devotion and whose insistence on pushing his musical convictions to the limit carried him to peaks of burning intensity. For Vogt, it was a never a case of putting himself on display. Always, it was the opportunity to create silence, a space so that music could be brought into the world and be lifted with the audience around him towards beauty and fraternity. I will never forget a Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 4 at the Festival de La Roque d'Anthéron and I can assert with certainty that the pianists Claire Désert and Christian Ivaldi won’t either, nor the audience and orchestra members, so permanently were they branded by that evening. It was a moment of grace in which were fused in a mysterious conjunction the joy of playing, of making music in the most practical sense, with hands, body, a plunge into the dark recesses of the human soul, of suffering, of forces which abandon the struggle in a slow movement which is the fight for life that death crushes with its blows. Lars Vogt was the Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 4.

This evening, his orchestra paid him homage. But “his” isn't the right word, because, even if he was their boss, Vogt felt amongst them, with them, neither against them nor above them. He was a warm, straightforward and direct man who had, from the beginning of his cancer, broadcast on Twitter no-nonsense words which gave courage to his followers and conversed with him on the subject of the war in Ukraine, for he was an engaged citizen. The musicians chose Daniel Harding to conduct them together with a clutch of soloists, all friends of their musical director. And what a conductor, what soloists! Christian Tetzlaff on violin, Paul Lewis at the piano, Alban Gerhardt on the cello and the tenor Ian Bostridge, in a programme which might have made one fear a depressing funereal wake but became transformed into an evening whose elegance and grace touched the audience – who came in substantial numbers, but sadly, not enough to fill the Philharmonie, where there were several empty seats in the gods. But the curtain calls showed the understanding of this audience, who gave a standing ovation to the musicians.

Daniel Harding and the l'Orchestre de chambre de Paris
© Joachim Bertrand

Daniel Harding conducted with precision and a flexible gesture, with attention to balance, to contrapuntal clarity, to progressions and colours. This allowed the musicians of the Orchestre de chambre de Paris to make music in a way that would so have thrilled Vogt, who had been conducting them in this same venue this spring in a Mendelssohn programme to celebrate the release of their wonderful Ondine recording of piano concertos. Then, to hear Bostridge in a Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen from Mahler’s Knaben Wunderhorn accompanied by an ensemble so refined and with such transparent textures is a joy as much as it is an intense emotion. As heartrending as he was towards the end of the concert, with his rendering of the Reger arrangement of Schubert's Nacht und Träume, and as nostalgically English as his four songs from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Along the Field, accompanied on solo violin by Tetzlaff, himself deeply moving in the Dvořák Romance for violin and orchestra, played with a bow so gentle, so fluid, so whispering, with a sound so otherworldly.

Christian Tetzlaff and Ian Bostridge
© Joachim Bertrand

And what to say about Paul Lewis, so devoid of histrionics, so simple in his phrasing of the second movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1, dedicated to the memory of Schumann, or of Alban Gerhardt in Dvořák’s Silent Woods, whose bow shunned declamation in favour of the whispering of confidences intrinsic to this work. All played in memory of their friend, without seeking to overshadow each other. Harding was so moving in the return of the theme of the Adagio espressivo from Schumann’s Symphony no. 2 that one’s eyes smarted with tears. He played the finale at the end of the concert, taking it more slowly and less spectacularly than many conductors do. Harding also gave the musicians space to sing each of their parts, bringing to this finale rather Mendelssohnian colours, very much in the manner of Lars Vogt, whose way of making music had the same blend of subtlety, tenderness and power, as disarming as it was unforgettable.


Translated from French by David Karlin

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