Distant Light = BACH: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; VASKS: Concerto for Violin and Strings “Distant Light” – Renaud Capucon, violin/ Chamber Orch. of Europe – Erato

by | Jul 20, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

Distant Light = BACH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041; Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042; VASKS: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra “Distant Light” – Renaud Capucon, violin/ Chamber Orch. of Europe – Erato 08256 463232 2, 60:00 (5/13/14) [Distr. by Warner Classics] ****:

Recorded at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory, Aix en Provence (5-7 December 2013), the two Bach Violin Concertos enjoy a lithe and stylistic interpretation, with a reduced Chamber Orchestra of Europe led from the solo by Renaud Capucon (b. 1976). Capucon utilizes short, energetic bow strokes for his long-lined attacks, asserting the tonic chord in the E Major Concerto Allegro with a fervent gusto.  The plangent opening six measure of the Adagio highlights the continuo of Celine Frisch before Capucon makes his affecting entry in C-sharp Minor. The melancholy intimacy of this movement warrants the price of admission. The singing tone of Capucon’s instrument, a Guarnerius del Gesu “Panette” that once belonged to Isaac Stern adds to the exquisite sweetness of the occasion. The concluding dances with requisite panache and an elegant sense of closure for a dance that sings and skips with facile bravura.

The more Italianate A Minor Concerto extends the Vivaldi model by injecting a define sense of tragic pathos. A martial ethos permeates its figures, often in ritornello format whose repetitive phrases increase in emotional intensity as the music wends its way forward. The C Major Andante, too, elicits a definite gravitas, a penchant for orchestral sighs, over which Capucon intones a reverent cantilena. The continuo triplets from the Frisch continuo provide a semi-funereal pulse to a personal swan-song. The final movement, Allegro assai in 9/8,  moves with hearty bravura, a flighty gigue which often allows the Capucon tone to sail above the rustic festival with enchanted wings.

Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) is a Latvian composer who feels that his music expresses the sufferings his people endured by way of Nazi and Soviet occupation. Fellow violinist and compatriot Gidon Kremer has exerted considerable influence on Vasks, particularly requesting the composition of this violin concerto (1996-97) Distant Light.  The violin enters at the anguished top of its range, Andante, supported by strings. Shifting textures ensure, high harmonics pitted against diatonic episodes in a kind of melodic fantasia. The piece sports three Cadenza movements, the first of which uses double stops and pizzicato effects. A Cantabile episode ensures, returning to the extremes of the upper range, quite plaintive.

Clearly, this music, whose Mosso movement follows, expresses a powerful requiem for a lost heritage. A lachrymose dance, the Mosso contains Latvian rhythms that break off for Cadenza II, much in the jerky, stabbing manner of the Stravinsky Concerto. Another break: now, the Cantabile (Adagio) dirge sets in, a true threnody of some powerful melodic content.  At the peak of the agon, Capucon initiates Cadenza III, a striking bit of solo drama interrupted rudely by a frenzied Tempo de valse that outdoes Shostakovich for bitter tea. As suddenly as it appeared, the “waltz” disappears so that an extended Andante, grim as the opening Adagio, makes its consoling way to the “distant light” of the past or the uncertainty of the illumined future.  Capucon cherishes this modern concerto, claiming in his program notes, that Vasks and Bach share “purity of line, simplicity, celestial harmony. . .a search for the absolute. As well as moment of Grace”

A small caveat: the tempo indications and timings listed for the two Bach concertos are reversed.

—Gary Lemco


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