Capuçon-Angelich Trio Performs at Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chamber music fans distraught over the demise of the Beaux Arts Trio in September, and who now fret about finding another group equal to the venerable ensemble, need to hear the Capuçon-Angelich Trio.

The group's terrific performance Friday at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater embodied the very reason we go to hear live music: We hope to experience a performance so compelling that it lifts us to another place.

Although the trio is a relative newcomer, its collective timing, phrasing, tone and balance are that of seasoned, Beaux-Arts-like veterans, belying the musicians' ages: American pianist Nicholas Angelich is 38; French violinist Renaud Capuçon, 32; and his brother, cellist Gautier Capuçon, is 27. The trio chose three contrasting pieces spanning three centuries, performing with the instincts of a versatile actor, deeply probing each new role, yet never calling attention to itself.

The elegance of Haydn's "Gypsy" Trio benefited from Renaud's sweet-sounding Guarneri fiddle (formerly Isaac Stern's), played so tenderly in tandem with Angelich's gently rippling piano. A shattering performance of Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2 followed. Written at the height of World War II, it's a portrait of the fear and death that surrounded the tormented composer. The Allegro overflowed with hellbent intensity, while the Allegretto, haunted by a laughter-through-tears Jewish theme, was played slowly, with violent strumming and an aching solo from Gautier. It all ended in whispered, eerie harmonics, like final gasps of breath.

Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 was exquisitely laid out, suffering only slightly from a weightiness that pushed the tone closer to the spirit of Brahms. With playing at this level, who needs any other piano trio?

-- Tom Huizenga

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