Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang are two of the busiest performers on the circuit today, according to Bachtrack’s latest annual statistics. And as a pairing, this exhilarating duo was always likely to produce fireworks, although their programme of mature Chopin and Franck also showed much depth and reflection, something Capuçon and Wang were clearly keen to explore. Their flourishing musical collaboration bore considerable fruit in these works, both players mixing fiery passion with subtle nuance, far from mere surface-glitz, and demonstrating a heightened level of musicianship.

Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang © Mark Allan | Barbican
Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang
© Mark Allan | Barbican

Their first offering was César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major, one of the finest pieces in the repertoire, in Jules Delsart’s arrangement for cello and piano, a setting sanctioned by the composer. What struck me in this performance was not only how well Wang and Capuçon understood how to get the most out of the music, but also how well they understood each other. The calm restraint of the opening movement building gradually into expansive ground swells set the scene for the careful attention they gave to the overall architecture of the piece. Capuçon’s wonderfully rich tone and immaculate control across all registers was on fine display, while Wang’s vivacity and delicate touch combined sensitively, with a steely strength in her playing and really eking out the tensions in Franck’s more ethereal and mystical harmonies. The second movement was taken at rather a dangerous pace, fizzing through like there was no tomorrow, the anxiety of the piano overpowering the cello at times but still keeping wonderfully on the edge, while the passages of hushed tones in the first and third movements were elegant and hypnotic. The lyricism and rapture Capuçon and Wang gave to the fourth movement mirrored the first, giving a neat sense of closure.

Before the interval, we had the sort of piece that could equally have opened the concert. Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante, one of his early pieces, had Capuçon bouncy and robust, with Wang’s fingers unbelievably quick and precise, as they took us casually through the roving, free-flowing introduction and the perky polonaise with a cheeky joie de vivre.

Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang © Mark Allan | Barbican
Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang
© Mark Allan | Barbican

In Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor, one of his last completed works, Capuçon and Wang were in full rhapsodic mood, particularly in the outer movements, while showing intricate interplay in the Scherzo with a wonderful contrast in the legato section and a beautifully poised and nostalgic Largo with a subtly understated feel. Both players showed sensitivity to each other’s melodic and harmonic lines, holding back while the other came to the fore, and had a great feel for changes in tempo and dynamics. Capuçon was articulate and lyrical in the Finale, Wang undulating and thunderous, but together they were thrilling. Aside from technical virtuosity, their ability to mix fire and cool waters with urgency and delicacy was perhaps their greatest strength.

The feather in the cap was the killer encore. The hall was plunged in darkness and the stage lit with a deep red as we were taken into late-night Buenos Aires with Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango. Capuçon and Wang really let themselves go in this ten-minute piece from the master of the genre, showing plenty of attitude and colouristic variety through the intoxicating rhythm of the pulsating tango. A final splash and a flourish and it was all over, capping off performances of the highest calibre with style and panache.

*****