The second performance of the Rencontres Musicales d’Évian was only sparsely attended in the acoustically distinguished La Grange au Lac, but it was streamed live for the benefit of many. The evening’s anchor was a young artist proving time after time that at the age of 27 she has become one of the great pianists of our time. Beatrice Rana started with a rendition of Ravel's La Valse, adding one partner (cellist Gautier Capuçon) for a Beethoven sonata, and one more (clarinetist Paul Meyer) for a Brahms trio.

Beatrice Rana
© Rencontres Musicales d’Évian

Maurice Ravel composed La Valse, poème chorégraphique pour orchestra in 1919-20 and repeatedly refused to accept that the score, with its Danse Macabre coda, might be a metaphor for the dissolution of a certain Viennese lifestyle at the beginning of the 20th century. Contrary to other Ravel opuses, where the piano scores preceded the orchestral ones, La Valse’s two-piano arrangement and the solo piano transcription were afterthoughts. It was wonderful to listen to Rana evoking reminiscences of orchestral colors: the initial rumbling of the double basses, the sound of a plangent oboe, harp glissandos, a timpani explosion. Overall, her playing was an irresistible combination of firepower and elegance. She effortlessly alternated passages of quicksilver crispness with others where luxurious harmonies emerged from unexaggerated rubatos and just pedaling. Technical difficulties never stood in the way of outstanding expressiveness.

Gautier Capuçon
© Rencontres Musicales d’Évian

If Capuçon and Meyer played together before, it was their first musical encounter with the Italian pianist. Despite all the interpreters’ unquestionable musicality, the balance of timbres was not always perfect. Of all Beethoven’s cello sonatas, Capuçon and Rana selected the Fourth, Op.102 no.1, written in 1815, at the beginning of the composer’s late period. It is a great example of Beethoven’s quest to create forms where motivic and harmonic developments are unencumbered by canonical limitations (the composer himself called it his “freie Sonata”). The two seemed to underline how almost everything can be derived from the motif enounced in the first two bars by the solo cello. They emphasized the brief recall of the first movement’s material at the beginning of the second one. Thematic material bounced back and forth with ease and continuity. Overall, Capuçon and Rana’s rendition had a rhapsodic quality, nevertheless keeping unnecessary divagations at bay.

Paul Meyer, Beatrice Rana and Gautier Capuçon
© Rencontres Musicales d’Évian

One of the four late masterpieces composed by Brahms under the spell of his encounter with the art of clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, the Trio, Op.114 has an unmissable autumnal aura. The subdued, pensive mood is heralded in the very first bars by the longing, upward arpeggio rendered with unique pathos by Gautier Capuçon. In fact, it is the string instrument that often plays the leading role in this work, even if cello and clarinet constantly play off each other with the piano rarely taking the initiative. Among the highlights of this version were Paul Meyer’s heartfelt rendition of the opening theme of the Adagio – an echo of the descending chords of the Allegro’s second theme -, the intermingling voices of cello and clarinet in the first two movements, or the overall energy in the final Allegro.

At the end, witnessing – via streaming – the trio of magnificent interpreters embracing each other with unbridled camaraderie, and listening to the apparently riotous applauses in the background, one could believe that the performance took place in a “prelapsarian”, pre-COVID world. But it did not, and that certainly raises one’s hopes.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.