Capuçon and Wang prove a simpatico duo for Boston’s Celebrity Series

April 08, 2019
By Aaron Keebaugh
Gautier Capucon and Yuja Wang performed Saturday night at Jordan Hall. Photo: Martin Argyroglo

Gautier Capucon and Yuja Wang performed Saturday night at Jordan Hall. Photo: Martin Argyroglo

Nearly a decade ago, Yuja Wang began to seek new performance opportunities that would take her away from the solo spotlight. Charting a new course as a chamber musician, she discovered a sensitive partner in cellist Gautier Capuçon, and the two began performing regularly at Switzerland’s Verbier Festival.

Together the duo showed they are capable of musical intimacy and poetic insight, both of which were on display at their Celebrity Series recital Saturday night at Boston’s Jordan Hall in music of Franck and Chopin.

Capuçon and Wang share a similar vigor and alert spontaneity that make it seem as if they are finishing each other’s phrases. The French cellist plays with a robust intensity that brings out drama from even the most delicate of works. Saturday night, he mined every shade of the deep, ringing tone of his 1701 Matteo Goffriller instrument.

Wang’s approach to solo romantic repertoire doesn’t always result in probing musical interpretations, as with her self-indulgent Schumann concerto with the BSO in February. Yet she proved a surprisingly subtle and thoughtful partner to Capuçon, and listening to them Saturday night it seemed that the two had been playing together for a lifetime.

César Franck’s celebrated Sonata in A major, written for violin and piano, has also become a staple of cello repertoire through a transcription by Jules Delsar. The musicians shaped the quasi-impressionistic lines of the first movement with refinement, Capuçon’s silvery tone emerging from Wang’s resonant harmonies like distant light.

In the third movement, Capuçon unwound the Bachian Fantasia with striking freedom. As the two traded the theme with each other, the melodies surged, coiled into gentle arcs, and died away. A similar elegance marked the finale, where the duo wove Franck’s contrapuntal lines into a plush musical tapestry.

The second movement provided ample fireworks, with Wang tossing off the churning theme with abandon before passing it off to Capuçon, who transformed it into a dizzying cascade of descending figures. Throughout, the musicians played with the polish and poise of a seasoned, finely balanced duo, one never outshining the efforts of the other.

Their performance of Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor was equally rich in contrast. Written in the wake of the composer’s painful split with writer George Sand, this rare example from Chopin’s chamber output bears his characteristic melancholy.

But in the hands of Capuçon and Wang, this music took on an edge and excitement often reserved for more muscular romantic works. Bold sections had full-bodied power while Chopin’s soft interjections sounded with a soft glow. The opening theme, which provided much of the material for the first movement, unspooled in a long line as Wang shaped her phrases with generous rubato. When he took over the phrase, Capuçon transformed Chopin’s music into an almost operatic melisma.

The Scherzo coursed with vitality and the finale showcased the musicians in storm-tossed duets. Wang brought unusual force to climaxes, perhaps more Lisztian bravura in style than Chopinesque filigree. Yet this remained an engrossing and even revelatory performance, particularly in the third movement, which featured the duo in moments of melting lyricism.

Chopin’s Polonaise brillante, Op. 3 for cello and piano brought as much flash as substance. After the wild diversions of the introduction, Capuçon and Wang traversed the stately dance rhythms with fluent, energetic sweep. The pianist’s harmonic torrents and the cellist’s double-stops and trickling passages put an exclamation point on a recital marked by both virtuosic spectacle and probing interpretive depth.

Two encores resulted in more moments of searching expression and technical brilliance. Capuçon’s cello melody in Saint-Saëns’s The Swan shimmered, and the duo’s performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Grand Tango was by turns sweet and seductive, qualities that these musicians seem able to find in almost any composition.

Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang will perform at Carnegie Hall 8 p.m. Wednesday.

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