Proms 2011: the Capuçon brothers and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring

Nick Shave on a fiery Prom 5


What is the point of music on the brain – those snippets of imaginary sound that go round and round like a song on a stuck record? According to the psychiatrist Anthony Storr in his influential book, Music and the Mind, it’s a good thing: just as music alleviates boredom and reduces fatigue, so the music that surfaces in our minds draws attention to overlooked thoughts and is basically 'beneficent'.

I’m not so sure: it’s now day two of hearing three bars of Stravinsky’s Danse Sacrale on loop – high, aggressive flutes followed by galloping, off-beat pizzicatos; high, aggressive flutes followed by galloping off-beat pizzicatos; high, aggressive flutes followed by… This surely can’t be good.

The cause of this severe bout of Sacrale on the brain is a performance of the Rite of Spring by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France which took place under Myung-Whun Chung on Wednesday night at the Royal Albert Hall. It is memorable for a number of reasons: tempo, rhythms and dynamics were tightly controlled and every motif articulated clearly – you could really hear when ideas were passed between sections of the orchestra. But the performance is most memorable for its fire: like Chung, who conducted from memory, the players seemed entirely free of the score, throwing themselves into the drama of each moment.

Thinking back, the Capuçon brothers’ rendition of the Brahms Double Concerto also had its moments: they found a unanimity in their playing that seemed remarkable at the time, not least in their virtuosic little encore, the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia – a nice choice of party piece. And the lyrical sweeps of Weber's Oberon Overture that began the concert allowed the orchestra to show off its clean string sound. But when all is said, it’s the Rite that sticks in the mind. I look forward to a change of tune with András Schiff playing Bartók's Third Piano Concerto this evening – hopefully entirely forgettable.

Prom 5: Weber: Oberon - overture; Brahms: Concerto in A minor for Violin and Cello; Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Renaud Capuçon (vln), Gautier Capuçon (cello); Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Myung-Whun Chung

Nick Shave writes for The Guardian and is Contributing Editor of BBC Music Magazine. A regular reviewer and blogger of the Proms, he can usually be found at the Royal Albert Hall with only seconds to spare, breaking into an ungainly powerwalk somewhere between the ticket collection desk and the stalls

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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