Wang and Capuçon review – a dazzling display electrifies Chopin and Franck

Erica Jeal
Wang and Capuçon review – a dazzling display electrifies Chopin and Franck. Barbican, LondonWang’s crisp and agile piano highlights Capuçon’s warm and intense cello as the star pair perform the concert of their CD
Wang and Capuçon review – a dazzling display electrifies Chopin and Franck. Barbican, LondonWang’s crisp and agile piano highlights Capuçon’s warm and intense cello as the star pair perform the concert of their CD

A pair of stars don’t necessarily make for a great musical duo, but something seems to have clicked for cellist Gautier Capuçon and pianist Yuja Wang. This arch-romantic programme of Chopin and Franck found them on electric form, single-minded in their approach to music even while it highlighted their different strengths.

The warmth and intensity of Capuçon’s cello was thrown into relief by both the crisp agility of Wang’s piano playing and her sometimes surprising switches into understated quietness. Franck’s Sonata in A Major had a singing quality that carried it from its lilting beginnings to the soaring finale. Arranged for cello with the composer’s blessing, it was originally written for the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who gave the premiere at his own wedding – something to think about next time the speeches go on too long – and it wasn’t a stretch to hear joyous church bells in the finale’s pealing scales.

Chopin’s Introduction et Polonaise Brillante initially found Wang taking an accompanying role, but ended with a dazzling display from her – of course Chopin couldn’t keep the piano in the background for long. Nothing seemed to faze Wang, either here or in Chopin’s later Cello Sonata, where only a tendency to lose melodic clarity at the moments of greatest frenzy betrayed any sense of difficulty. Capuçon shaped long phrases as if he were a singer whose breath never needed topping up. The high point came with the slow movement, standing out from the dark drama around it in its almost innocent simplicity.

If the performance seemed well-oiled and absolutely secure, that wasn’t surprising: Wang and Capuçon toured and recorded this programme, and released the disc last month. This, then, was the concert of the CD – right down to the encore, Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, which was a bit of a stylistic jolt but was fun and forceful right through to Wang’s closing double-handed glissando up the length of the keyboard. There was great virtuosity in this concert, and great musicianship; a little more risk-taking was all that was missing.

• Yuja Wang is at the Barbican, London, on 31 March.