The morning after the night before... With fresh, clean air rolling through the mountains, the rainswept extremes of the Verbier Festival Orchestra’s Salome gave way to something altogether sunnier. There is nothing remotely grubby or lubricious about Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata of 1887: its traversal of styles from a Brahmsian first movement to an ultra-romantic finale by way of a disarmingly simple central movement possesses, instead, a musical purity that deserves to be better known.

Renaud Capuçon and Denis Kozhukhin © Nicolas Brodard
Renaud Capuçon and Denis Kozhukhin
© Nicolas Brodard

Renaud Capuçon and Denis Kozhukhin gave a celebratory performance of a work they clearly find rewarding to play and interpret. A keening melody for the former, underpinned by clouds of note clusters from the latter, gave way to assertively poetic violin figures and jabbing piano phrases that unfolded over 15 colourful minutes. The music, firm and romantic though it is, was strikingly undemanding.

By contrast, the second movement Andante cantabile offered recognisable Strauss in a delicious song without words that was perfumed with hints of the operas to come. There were piano arpeggios that could have come from the pen of no other composer. Capuçon’s aristocratic bowing kept the excesses in check here; but he loosened his buttons for the dramatic finale, a chromatic tapestry that opened out into an instantly appealing, shamelessly expansive rondo. Fast-rising arpeggios and showy flourishes from both the violinist, trim and tidy, and from his loose-limbed pianist, the ruffled and ready Kozhukhin, led to a dizzying climax.

The recital had opened with a technically brilliant account of Schubert’s B minor Rondo. Stately and sinuous at first, the pair’s interpretation picked up steam in the bucolic dance section yet always bore in mind the need for classical elegance and control. An explosive coda notwithstanding, this was Schubert in the shade of Beethoven.

Renaud Capuçon © Nicolas Brodard
Renaud Capuçon
© Nicolas Brodard

Whether by accident or design, Ludwig van B is a recurring figure at this year’s Verbier Festival. In the opening week alone several of his greatest piano sonatas are scheduled to feature in recitals by Sokolov, Kissin and Goode. Here he was represented by his Sonata for violin and piano, Op.30 no. 2. One of the composer’s more expansive exercises in the form, written in his beloved key of C minor, its flamboyant yet formal opening movement (marked Allegro con brio) suited Capuçon down to the ground with its dramatic introduction and ear-catching marche militaire interlude. The Adagio cantabile that followed was played precisely but, disappointingly, with little sense of sentiment. Perhaps a splash more passion might have been welcome, just to inject some emotion? It was not until the Scherzo that teamwork and tone came together; and as Beethoven’s mood lightened, Capuçon and Kozhukhin led each other a merry dance through their playful duetting.

A return to thematic statements and sonata-style developments drew the Finale back into the ways of good behaviour and musical formality; but by now the performers had found their groove. They freewheeled their way through the closing pages, and in their climactic flurry flew downhill with both feet off the pedals.

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