Ariane Todes interviews renowned French violinist Renaud Capuçon

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 10:26
Ariane Todes interviews renowned French violinist Renaud Capuçon ahead of his three-concert journey through Beethoven's violin sonatas on 6, 7 and 9 November at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall. Renaud Capuçon on Beethoven's violin sonatas Renaud Capuçon dreamed of performing a Beethoven Violin Sonata cycle from the age of seven. He heard his teacher playing them all in two concerts and recalls, ‘I don’t know if he was any good, but I was so proud and I remember thinking that when I was older I would do this.’ He learnt the ‘Spring’ Sonata when he was eight, despite his teacher’s warnings about being too young, and when he and Frank Braley first met in 1998 they decided together to fulfill the dream, working on the entire set over time and finally recording and touring it five years ago. Hearing the sonatas chronologically as we do here, we have a 15-year window on Beethoven’s life, from the three Op.12 sonatas, written in 1797–8 when he was 27, through to his Op.96 sonata, written in 1812 when he was 42 and substantially deaf. Capuçon explains the process: ‘Each sonata is a journey within a journey. It’s amazing to be able to play ten sonatas that cover Beethoven’s life. It’s like jumping into special Beethoven water. You get absorbed in one particular atmosphere, following a path and enjoying the changes that the composer undergoes.’ Capuçon describes some of these changes and reveals his own favourite sonata: ‘In the first three sonatas, Op.12, Beethoven is full of life. They feel youthful but you already recognise the Beethoven who’s going to bang on the table and to revolutionise colouring. Op.12 No.3 and Op.30 No.6 are less well-known than the ‘Spring’ (Op.24 No.5) and ‘Kreutzer’ (Op.47 No.9), but they have heartbreaking slow movements.’ Op.30 No.8 is the happiest of the cycle – it could be a young opus because it’s very fresh and optimistic. There’s such a contrast between No.9 and No.10. No.9 is like a duel, a violent discussion between violin and piano. No.10 reminds me of the final Beethoven piano sonata in the way it’s written for piano – the sense of time being completely suspended as you wait for the harmony to move – it’s like a dream. You can clearly feel that Beethoven was deaf by then – there is a kind of desolation and renouncement. He’s not angry any more – it’s like he’s accepted everything. It’s my favourite because it’s incredibly intense and introverted. You can feel Beethoven’s suffering, and what emerges is so pure.’ What are the challenges of playing all these works in such a short space of time? ‘There are more than 30 movements so you have to stay absolutely focused and concentrated. The real challenge is to give to each movement and each sonata the correct character. It changes a lot, very quickly: from playing a scherzo you go to an emotional slow movement and then you get a rondo finale that’s full of energy. You also find extreme dynamics, such as a subito piano after a fortissimo, or the opposite. Beethoven often creates a peaceful line and then suddenly breaks it and goes somewhere completely different. You have to be aware of all these changes: to let the violin sing, but also to be at the edge of this change.’ Capuçon and Braley have played the pieces in more than 60 concerts together as well as recording them. So will these performances be the same as they’ve played them before? Absolutely not, says Capuçon: ‘It will be completely different, because we’ve changed, life has changed. I’ve had a son, which changed my way of playing, and I have a new bow, which also makes a difference. This is what is exciting in music. Every concert is an adventure.’ After playing together for nearly 20 years, the duo know how to get the most out of the music and of each other, says Capuçon: ‘We really push each other to our limits. It’s not a diplomatic way of playing because we know each other so well. The more you can trust your partner, the more exciting the performance can be.’ And for any violinist, the pieces represent the ultimate challenge: ‘You can’t cheat in this music. These sonatas demand the full a range of qualities you should have as a violinist.’ BOOK NOW to experience this astonishing creative journey live at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall, © Ariane Todes, 2014