As a sentimental journey through the memory bank of a violinist and avowed cinephile, here was a concert that had everything going for it. Apart, that is, from the advertised conductor. Lawrence Foster had been due to accompany Renaud Capuçon for this opening concert of the seventh Easter Festival in Aix-en-Provence, but he was replaced unexpectedly by Geoffrey Styles. In the event little if anything was lost. The British conductor is a familiar name on the French circuit, perhaps indeed better known in mainland Europe than at home, and he kept a tight rein on the Lyon Opera Orchestra throughout an agreeable evening of cinematic fragments and offcuts entitled, simply, Cinéma.

Renaud Capuçon and Geoffrey Styles © Caroline Doutre
Renaud Capuçon and Geoffrey Styles
© Caroline Doutre

The programme was almost identical to that on Capuçon’s Erato CD of the same name (for which the conductor had been Stéphane Denève), with Philippe Rombi’s ‘Aria’ from the film Joyeux Noël held back as an encore. The evening comprised a blend of international movie themes together with gems of French film music that deserved their place in the sun. Most of the great Gallic names of the silver screen were included, often for their work on English language films. The late Michel Legrand was represented by Yentl and Summer of ’42, Georges Delerue by Le Mépris, Maurice Jarre by Dead Poets Society. The emphasis was on established classics, with Alexandre Desplat’s theme for Twilight: New Moon (2009) the closest thing to a recent composition. Vladimir Cosma contributed his Berlin Concerto from La 7e Cible (a 1984 film that did not receive an English-speaking-world release) and, as a stomping closer, his theme for one of France’s best-loved comedies, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe.

That last entry highlights a snag in programming these arrangements for solo violin and orchestra, for it was the sole raucous number in an evening of predominantly lush, romantic scores. Thus Ennio Morricone, the king of stirring soundtracks, was represented not by a rousing western theme but by two of his lyrical miniatures, Cinema Paradiso and The Mission. Both themes are masterly achievements but they inhabit the same emotional landscape as a good many other selections, Mancini’s Moon River and James Horner’s pastoral Legends of the Fall among them. An album that makes ideal easy listening over a quiet dinner became a little samey when heard in concert.

Capuçon was a genial host, breaking off every now and then to introduce groups of themes and to enchant the opening night audience at a festival which he himself co-founded and of which he remains artistic director. You would never have guessed, as he eased into Piovani’s theme from Life is Beautiful, that he was embarking on a high-intensity fortnight of artistic responsibility and top-end music-making. Sometimes the instrument was spotlit, e.g. in John Williams’s aching Schindler’s List (one of the few pieces actually written for a violin soloist), at others the French virtuoso acted like an old-school Hollywood concert master, emerging from the texture with a sweet solo timbre like a cinematic lark ascending in Korngold’s 'Romance' from The Adventures of Robin Hood. All told it was a dashing, captivating concert, lacking only a few mood-changers to stimulate the audience’s eager receptors.

***11