Renaud Capuçon with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Daniel Harding conducting.I don't always notice how a piece's dimensions grow when played live, as opposed to in my car or through earbuds, but this really struck me, listening to the Violin Concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, played Saturday by French violinist
Somehow this was the first time I'd heard it live, despite being a longtime fan of this work (and longtime second-violinist in dozens of orchestras). It's even more of a crowd-pleaser than I realized, and it certainly has that big-screen, movie-composer scope, though the program notes rightly acknowledge: The European-born composers like Korngold brought this Viennese opera-house Romanticism to film, not the other way around.
The first movement has a feeling of wonder, with strumming harp, celeste and reverberating vibraphone filling out an already-full orchestra. I thought of Bali Ha'i, with birds chirping overhead; a dense, ringy thicket of sound. The violin has to sail on top -- though it seems a lot like sailing in soup. Good soup, I grant you. I did get the sense that Capuçon was fully employed, getting that gorgeous 1737 "Panette Guarneri del Gesu" sound to remain atop the churning orchestra.
He did succeed, and maybe part of the fun of this piece is that feeling of the solo violinist, as heroic navigator in a bright but challenging adventure in which the violinist is certain to reign triumphant. Capuçon indeed won me over, with his beautiful tone, full engagement with the music and no-nonsense, spot-on technique where needed.
For a piece that is so sweet and sentimental, so easy in its familiarity, the Korngold certainly is complex. The violin part alternates between rapid, obstacle-course fireworks and melodious passages that have to pour forth from the violin's highest-possible registers. The orchestra has a good deal of back-and-forth, and the music turns strange harmonic corners, despite its easy-going overall tonal quality.
Capuçon played beautiful filigree in the upper register during the meandering second movement, then Bam! The last movement was so energetic, Capuçon was literally hopping and kicking! To me, this movement has an element of humor, in the playful exchanges between sections of the orchestra: they punt around the melodic line as though playing keep-away with a ball. This interplay is so much more evident when seen live.
The last movement is where Capuçon the chamber musician came out; he played with great sensitivity to his fellow musicians, turning to the first violins to play with them, fitting his rhythms into the wild orchestra, turning to concertmaster Martin Chalifour when he played his solo. Capuçon rode this Tilt-a-Whirl without a hint of getting dizzy, executing seamless artificial harmonics and clear-headed yet passionate playing throughout. The final bars of this piece were hilarious to me, as if Korngold didn't know how to end it so he simply threw down every type of ending in the book. Well done! My only regret was that Capuçon played no encore!
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