Lucid Culture

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Brieuc Vourch and Guillaume Vincent Bring Renewed Energy to Old Favorites

In the insightful liner notes to their new album of Franck and Richard Strauss sonatas, violinist Brieuc Vourch and pianist Guillaume Vincent quote the great conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt: “Security and beauty are not compatible.” In late 2021, that’s not just a radical statement. It would put the conductor on a terrorist watch list.

The point of that citation is that musicians have to take chances; to steal a line from Leonard Cohen, that’s how the light gets in. The duo’s raison d’etre in making the record – streaming at Spotify – is not to make contemporary avant garde music out of this, but to go under the hood and evoke how cutting-edge it was for its time. Making an album of some of the classical world’s best-loved works, recorded innumerable times by iconic figures, is a daunting task…and a bold statement, if you can pull it off.

You could read this as a critical appreciation, in real time, by two guys who really understand this. Or just a couple of players having astute fun with a couple of pieces brimming with color and luxuriant melody. Either way, this is a very confident, masculine performance.

It’s clear from the opening movement of the Strauss sonata – a relatively early work – that this is a love song, a graceful pas de deux in the two’s elegant counterpoint. An expressive player with an understated old-world vibrato, Vourch is well suited to this repertoire, and Vincent’s glittering precision matches the mood. The duo follow an organic trajectory as the passion rises, wanes and rises again.

In this duo’s hands, movement two seems to be all about pulling apart and then reconnecting, particularly when the lower registers of both instruments converge. Vourch’s sepulchral resonance grounded by Vincent’s matter-of-factness about five minutes in is breathtaking.

The pianist revels in the suspense introducing the concluding movement, then cuts loose as Vourch lingers and flits overhead, setting up the triumphant gusts as the duo ride the waves on the way out to bring this dance full circle. There’s also a priceless, self-effacingly funny moment right before the end, but you have to listen closely to catch it.

As attractive as the Strauss piece is, the Franck sonata is the big hit, and for good reason. The duo’s decision to play the first movement as steadily and straightforwardly as they do, eschewing any High Romantic rubato, is brave. It also feels a little fast. The game plan here seems to be to sidestep any kind of cliche in favor of energy, downplaying the wistfulness which Vourch brings into full angst-fueled bloom in the second movement.

That’s where the duo really engage with gusty emotion, but just as much with 19th century gleam – to set up Vourch’s fanged attack, bristling with harmonics, as the movement winds up. The choice to back away and really let the third movement linger, even as the volume rises with a shivery intensity, validates how they launched the sonata.

The resoluteness of the final movement results in a big payoff from Vincent’s bright, dancing chords and Vourch’s decision to dig in hard for bittersweetness rather than sentimentality, enhanced by a clenched-teeth, brittle vibrato in contrast with a spun-steel calm in the quieter moments. Even if you’ve heard this hundreds of times, this version will wake you up.

December 30, 2021 - Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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