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Finesse and fire from a starry musical duo

Finesse and fire from a starry musical duo
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Yuja Wang and Gautier Capuçon, shown in a file photo, recorded their performance at Koerner Hall on Saturday for an album scheduled for a fall release on the Warner Classics label.  (Supplied photo)

Royal Conservatory of Music. Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W. Apr. 13.

A full house including a stage lined with extra seats enjoyed a passionate and electrifying concert-turned-live-studio-session at Koerner Hall on Saturday night.

The artists were two of the world’s younger sensations: Chinese pianist Yuja Wang and French cellist Gautier Capuçon. Both have become favourite visitors to Toronto, either as soloists with the Toronto Symphony or, as was the case on Saturday, chamber music collaborators.

On the program were three much-loved pieces from the core of the 19th-century repertoire: Fryderyk Chopin’s G minor Cello Sonata and Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C Major; as well as César Franck’s A Major Cello Sonata.

Wang and Capuçon are touring the program widely. Because of their love of Koerner Hall, they decided to spend a couple of extra days in Toronto to record the pieces for an album scheduled for a fall release on the Warner Classics label.

We’ll see how adept the sound engineers will be at working around the usual coughs and sneezes, plus the patron who forgot to turn off their cellphone despite explicit pre-concert instructions from the stage.

Capuçon also adroitly survived a sheet-music malfunction, when his score decided to fold itself shut during the Chopin Sonata. It provided us with a breath-stopping example of how a musician playing from the score doesn’t mean they haven’t learned the piece well enough to know it by heart anyway.

These were minor distractions in a recital that showcased the very best in collaborative music-making. Wang and Capuçon had worked their interpretations into perfect unity. They both possess remarkable technique — Wang with her seemingly impossible legato runs and fingers that endlessly spin the most luxurious of musical silk, and Capuçon with his graceful phrasing supported by seemingly infinite gradations of bow control.

The two sonatas, very different in character, gave the duo with an excuse to explore the softer side of virtuosity. Together, they frequently made the music whisper without losing any of its engaging tone. The pianissimo playing drew our attention into a rapt, tight circle around the stage lights.

Then the music would explode into passionate louder passages that conveyed deep emotion without ever losing a sense of tasteful control. This might sound calculated, and by necessity it has to be, but Wang and Capuçon also had the ability to make the unfolding drama in music sound spontaneous.

Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante was a fine excuse to show how a cello can sing. This is one of the Polish composer’s nods to bel canto opera. Capuçon’s rich-toned old-master cello became the diva assoluta of the moment.

As if the programmed pieces weren’t enough to send us home fulfilled, the pair responded to the noisy and prolonged ovations with a moving performance of “The Swan” from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and a fiery romp through Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango.

The coming album is going to be a treat — but pretty much everyone at Koerner Hall is probably more interested in seeing these two great artists come back for another live concert soon.
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