The Sommets Musicaux festival provides an annual highlight on the European music scene, even though the cold winter months are not the customary time for music festivals. Since its inception in 2001, it has served as a place of pilgrimage for enthusiasts of boutique festivals. Over nine days, Gstaad, a small town in Switzerland, fills up with tourists, music lovers and an impressive list of guest artists.

Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich © Sommets Musicaux
Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich
© Sommets Musicaux

As a result of the pandemic, this year the festival takes place only online and has been reduced to five days. The opening recital was presented by Renaud Capuçon, artistic director of Sommets Musicaux, and Martha Argerich, performing two of the best-known sonatas for violin and piano in the ancient and atmospheric Saanen Church.

It was a concert not to be missed (the complete festival is freely available). The perfect historical atmosphere of the church from the 13th century, Capuçon’s Guarneri del Gesù violin, made in 1737, and two sonatas from the 19th century was flawed by one minor, but annoying detail: “Krompholz – Mehr Musik” shining on both sides of the piano, written in considerably larger letters than the (also 19th-century) brand name of Steinway and Sons. Such intrusive advertising is best left on cereal boxes.

Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich in the Église de Saanen © Sommets Musicaux
Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich in the Église de Saanen
© Sommets Musicaux

The concert began with the Violin sonata no. 9 in A major, “Kreutzer”, Op.47 by Ludwig van Beethoven, played so often worldwide that one might wonder if there is anything new still to discover in this work. There certainly was in this performance, demonstrating good, old-fashioned music-making in the best sense of the word. The artists were positioned so that visual contact was always possible – and frequently used – between them. More importantly, their intimate understanding of this brilliant composition and each other’s artistic style resulted in a self-evident flow of musical ideas, changing and evolving in every bar with boundless flexibility. By no means did they play all themes the same way; for example, Argerich began the slow, variation movement executing the sforzato (sudden emphasis of a note) markings of the theme with slight lengthening of time, while her partner did the same with volume. Variation IV was introduced by the pianist with extraordinarily delicate bell sounds, counterbalanced by her partner’s crisp but soft pizzicato accompaniment.

Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich © Sommets Musicaux
Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich
© Sommets Musicaux

Sensitivity to all nuances was similarly evident in the Violin Sonata in A major by César Franck. Capuçon’s bow moved over the strings smoother than a knife through soft butter, forming beautiful melodies. Argerich seemed as if improvising; she looked after every phrase and every harmony; the elasticity and refinement of her lines were just as awe-inspiring as the flexibility and strength of her fingers in absolute control of the keyboard.


This performance was reviewed from the Sommets Musicaux video stream

Watch the video here
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