Review: Capucon Quartet playing Beethoven String Quartets Opus 132 and 135 and the Printemps des Arts de Monte Carlo 2019

The Capucon Quartet are rock stars. That is all that needs to be said.

The Capucon Quartet’s concert was another must-attend for me (in part because of the chance to see Verbier Academy alumni and Thoroughly Good interviewee from a few years back, cellist Edgar Moreau) , making this Monte Carlo visit the trip where I binged on four Beethoven lates in 24 hours. Not for the faint-hearted by any means.

The second of the two concerts was in the finer acoustic and even in amongst the ostentatious chocolate box interior of the Opera Garnier in Monte Carlo. Two blistering performances of Beethoven string quartets (12 and 16), prefaced by a compelling performance of Kagel’s storytelling for accordion Pandorasbox from 1960 brilliantly performed by Jean-Etienne Sotty (below). Never before has a performer been so evidently commanded by the instrument he is playing. A fascinating muse on the role of the performer.

The Capucon Quartet began with Opus. 132, playing with poise and committment right from the off. They are, if you need an analogy, a rock star presence on the platform who perform even when they’re not playing a note. That makes attention all the easier, preparing us the listener for every note, delighting us when they sound.

Capucon pounds his heel on the stage – the first of two mannerisms I’ve seen here in Monte Carlo which should technically be a distraction, but does instead add to the overall effect. He exudes an alluring and intense kind of heat when he plays which only adds to the effect.

Cellist Moreau in comparison – youthful complexion with a strong nose – gives off a studious air about him as though he’s not yet given himself permission to live the experience he’s having. Guillaume Chilemme (second violin) and Adrien La Marca (viola) maintain a solid but comparatively low key presence, supporting their colleagues but not competing with them. I’m not clear on whether that’s as it should be, but the implicit deference on stage was striking nonetheless.

The second movement of Opus 132 – a profound musical expression – was made more enthralling as all found maintained a sense of stillness throughout. Long sweeping statements seemed to continue long after the musical phrases had come to an end. Here there was a sense of completeness about the experience as though the music was being conjured up from amongst them and existing around and about them.

The energy was broken after a false start to Opus 135 when one of Moreau’s strings either broke or slipped at the beginning of the performance. This understandably demanded all the performers left the stage whilst the necessary corrections were made. This didn’t impact their performance necessarily, though there was a sense that this interruption underlined by the supportive warm applause when Moreau had to call a halt to proceedings had cut the energy short.

Such piffling detail didn’t put a dent in proceedings especially. If anything it illustrated the necessary criteria for Beethoven string quartets. There needs to be focus, uncompromising commitment and limitless energy. As you’d expect the Capucon Quartet had this in spades throughout. But what will remain memorable about this event was Opus 132. An undoubted highlight of my musical year.