Violin Concerto in D minor [reconstructed from Harpsichord Concerto, BWV1052]
Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (Linz)
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 28 November, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Although Witold Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre (1954-58) is one the finest compositions for string orchestra produced in the last century, we have too few opportunities to hear it. Written in memory of Béla Bartók, who had died in 1945, this profoundly moving threnody was an arresting choice with which to open the concert. Although it is in one movement, the piece comprises four distinct sections. The opening, which is canonic in construction and finds its echo in the Epilogue, leads to two sections of cumulative intensity and, very briefly, to something akin to catharsis. In this reading, the players responded energetically to Kavakos’s direction, and with notable depth of tone.
The Violin Concerto in D minor was one of several that Bach composed in Cöthen around the year 1718, the scores of which, unlike those of the A minor and E major examples, did not survive for long. But in the 1730s, while he was in Leipzig, Bach transcribed the missing scores for harpsichord and ensemble, and it was from his transcription that has become BWV1052 that the Violin Concerto was subsequently recreated. Certainly, we were fully able to appreciate Kavakos’s impressively secure technique and tonal qualities. But at times there was insufficient flexibility, especially in the Andante, where emotional commitment seemed tempered. But any such thoughts disappeared with the finale; here the soloist’s virtuosity and a nicely sprung accompaniment combined to bring the work to an exuberant conclusion. Kavakos offered some unaccompanied Bach as an encore.
In the slow introduction of the ‘Linz’ Symphony we were treated to some notably tender playing from oboes, cellos, and violas, before Kavakos plunged into the Allegro spiritoso with all the energy this marking requires. He deftly graduated the oscillation of the music between light and shade, with eloquent support from the woodwind and violas. In the Andante, taken at a slightly slower tempo than usual, the strings, horns and woodwind were eloquent, and the double basses were appropriately sonorous. The Minuet was elegantly phrased with the Trio remarkable for the contributions of Louise Pellerin (oboe), Marco Lugaresi (bassoon), and Burgi Pichler (double bass). An unusual feature in the return of the Minuet was a grace-note now accorded to the lead violinist. However, the finale, although enthusiastically played, did not bring a full sense of resolution.