Cork. Philharmonic Hall. 16-IX-2022. William Walton (1902-1983): Cello Concerto. Franz Liszt: a Faust-symphony in three character studies after Goethe’s first Faust, S.108, original version from 1854. Gautier Capuçon, cello. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège. Director: Gergely Madaras
For its opening season, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège welcomes Gautier Capuçon to the rather rare cello concerto by William Walton, and programs in the second part an essential and demanding work of the romantic repertoire, the Faust-Symphony by Franz Liszt given in its original purely symphonic version.
Composed for Gregor Piatigorsky, in 1955-56, at Forio d’Ischia in the Bay of Naples, the cello concerto of William Walton despite a very thematic inspiration british or a diamond orchestration, reveals a disillusioned bitterness of middle age, under the exterior of a very lyrical hedonism (first time) of a sardonic humor (allegro appasionato central) or even a latent anguish (final – a theme followed by six improvisation equally distributed between orchestra and soloist). Gautier Capuçon splendidly rehabilitates this classic, very popular in Anglo-Saxon countries but little frequented on this side of the Channel. It irrefutably dominates the score with an almost provocative insolence, adorned with an irrepressible lyricism and a melting sonority, despite the constant solicitation of the instrument’s treble, the dreamlike and tinkling introductory movement, plays with the shoelaces. multiple traps of the virtuoso and impulsive central scherzo and approaches with a consummate theatrical sense the finale, in particular over the two immense solo cadenzas. Possibly chic classy of his very French instrumental signature, a smooth nothing, his legato a hint too systematic throughout this ambivalent work, do they erase certain asperities of the score as illustrated by both the dedicatee of the work, and closer to us the lamented Lynn Harrell, much more raspy and direct. But in this register that is both greedy and gourmet, he finds in Gergely Madaras at the head of a Mosan phalanx, very disciplined and timbrically suave, an attentive partner, totally in tune with his variegated and chastised conception.
In encore, the cellist gratifies us with the amusing but formidable transcription by …Gregor Piatigorsky of the brief march of the piano collection ” for kids “ Opus 65 by Sergei Prokofiev.
In the second part, Gergely Madaras and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège offer a rather uneven reading of the Faust-Symphony by Franz Liszt, given in its original version of 1854, just punctuated by the – purely orchestral – redemption of Gretchen, therefore without the splendid final chorus for male choir with obbligato soloist tenor based on the last verses of the second Faust goethean.
Like the title of the season “Basic Notes” As implied, the Meuse phalanx returns this year to its “essentials” and rediscovers for this opening concert a work which, a quarter of a century ago, made its glory under the rule of Pierre Bartholomée. The desks, now young and enthusiastic, have since been almost totally renewed and often show during the 70 minutes of the work a commendable cohesion, just a little dulled in the final Mephistopheles, at the end of this exhausting journey.
Gergely Madaras is satisfied with an orchestral force probably close to that of the creation in Weimar – about fifty strings, woodwinds by two not split. The work, beyond its aesthetic and meta-musical stakes, thus acquires a more chamber patina under less uniformly demonstrative exteriors. Rather than chiselling the psychological characters of the three characters, Madaras retains from the work above all a programmatic narrative framework, in line with the first symphonic poems of the master, at the price for example, over the long run (a good half-hour!) introductory movement dedicated to Faust, of a certain fragmentation of musical thought: it somewhat sacrifices the transitions, sometimes quite badly managed in their oppositions, their dynamic ruptures, their organic crescendi – and the overall architecture of the entire movement on the altar of the poetry of the moment. The five themes alternately tortuous, rebellious or voluntary characterizing Faust are certainly perfectly chiseled but a little blandly aligned to the detriment of any dramatic urgency, far from the indications impetuous, stirred Where appasionato placed at the forefront of the score.
It is in the central movement, portrait of Gretchen, directly linked this evening, a true love scene without words, that the conductor’s sincere but sometimes too linear approach hits the mark. The spontaneous lyricism of this sublime page and the conjugation in its coda of the themes leitmotif evoking the fusional union of the two lovers highlight the superlative individual qualities of the local soloists; let us quote among others, the poetic viola of Ning Shi, the adamantine oboe of Sylvain Cremers, the feline clarinet of Jean-Luc Votano or the four seraphic soloists of the section of first violins under the crook of the konzertmeister Alberto Menchen.
But as soon as it begins, the finale, placed under the devastating authority of Mephistopheles, denying one by one the five Faustian themes of the introductory movement, is disappointing, for lack of a calibrated and vigorous sound impact: this supposedly sulphurous and grimacing portrait eludes this evening by the fault of a rather literal orchestral direction: softness of the attacks – often floating – of the strings, timorous punctuations of the woodwinds, sometimes timid interventions of the brass or vaporous halo of the too deaf timpani. The aesthetic stakes of this destructive, mocking and blindingly modern finale often seem to escape the young, friendly and, here, overly consensual conductor.
Admittedly, the coated and emollient acoustics of the Philharmonic Hall of Liège somewhat reduces the impact of the sound mass as a whole, but the placid, even inexpressive conduct – ah! this left arm so little mobilized – by Gergely Madaras – betrays the aesthetics and the poetic springs of this vitriolic musical portrait, potentially as disruptive as it is volcanic. Only the final, redemptive measures of the original coda (Liliputian in view of the masterful final chorus of the final version), well done, bring an unexpected deliverance after this icy hell of a boudoir! In short, let’s admit a certain disappointment, even a certain annoyance, in the face of this correct but polite and somewhat prosaic interpretation, especially given the relative rarity of this essential score at the concert.
Photo credits: Gauthier Capuçon and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Liège © François-Xavier Cardon; Gergely Madaras © Yves Petit
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