“Je ne sais quoi dire,” was all Renaud Capuçon could articulate to Monday night’s audience at the Grand Théâtre de Provence. “I don’t know what to say.” News of the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral had filtered through ahead of his concert with the Wiener Symphoniker, and as artistic director of the Aix Easter Festival he clearly felt obliged to address it after the interval; but words eluded him. Thus it was that, bereft of speech and more by luck than judgement, he did exactly the right thing. He picked up his violin and played Poème.

Renaud Capuçon and the Wiener Symphoniker © Caroline Doutre
Renaud Capuçon and the Wiener Symphoniker
© Caroline Doutre

Chausson’s sublime work of introspection was already scheduled, but Capuçon attacked the score with such eloquent anguish that it became a threnody. It was impossible to remain unmoved. What a day to hear an all-French programme, and with this fragile moment at its heart criticism feels futile, disrespectful even. Capuçon’s account of Poème was freighted with such emotional astringency that I dreaded the prospect of an encore; yet his choice of the Méditation from Massenet's Thaïs proved every bit as felicitous. The violinist let its final note settle long in our thoughts until the first insensitive soul chose to shatter the moment by clapping.

Capuçon’s collaborator, the young Israeli conductor Lahav Shani, provided impeccable support, always discreet and pliant, and generously handed the platform to his soloist both here and in his first-half performance of Tzigane. The violinist launched into that work’s complex solo introduction with such casual assurance that he might have been stirring his coffee at the same time. Does this genial virtuoso practise Ravel’s fiendish finger-twister in his sleep? I wouldn’t be surprised. He really is that good.

Lahav Shani conducts the Wiener Symphoniker © Caroline Doutre
Lahav Shani conducts the Wiener Symphoniker
© Caroline Doutre

Shani, a bashful-looking chap with a disarmingly open grin, belied superficial impressions by demonstrating an absolute command of his music and his forces. The Wiener Symphoniker musicians are clearly enamoured of their principal guest conductor, a man who’s poised to become music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 2020. He has already replaced Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the helm of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and you only get a CV like that by your 30th year when you’re the real deal – as, on this showing, he unquestionably is. Dukas’ L’Apprenti sorcier seems unlikely repertoire for a Viennese orchestra yet all that was missing from the young maestro's larruping account of it were some smiles. Why so serious? Granted, by the sound of it the players had loosened up inside, but the occasional grin or glance amongst themselves might have tricked this listener into hearing even more bounce than I did.

Everything else about this unexpectedly moving concert was transcendent. The Symphoniker is a world-class outfit these days, and in Shani’s hands Ravel’s two masterpieces of orchestration, Daphnis et Chloé Suite no. 2 and La Valse, emerged in a plenitude of beauties as texture, dynamics and balance all found their ideal focus within the sound picture. Here, notwithstanding the day’s convulsions, was an evening to treasure – both for better and for worse, but for all the right reasons.



Mark's travel to Aix was funded by the Festival de Pâques

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