Leonidas Kavakos & Nicholas Angelich at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Partita in D minor, BWV1004 – Chaconne
Sonata No.2 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op.121
Six Romanian Folk Dances [arr. Szekeley]
Sonata No.3 for Violin and Piano, Op.25

Leonidas Kavakos (violin) & Nicholas Angelich (piano)

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 29 November, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Leonidas Kavakos. Photograph: Yannis BourniasThis programme was a comprehensive demonstration of world-class violin-playing in almost every regard. Technically, Leonidas Kavakos showed himself to be one of the finest violinists in the world today, in terms of intonation, phrasing, chording, gradations of dynamics and a command of the varied musical structures running through this programme. In such ways were the myriad expressive differences of Schumann, Bartók and Enescu laid out before us, to which we shall return, but whilst it was an eminently sensible idea to begin with the greatest music of the evening, in the process giving a performance that presented Bach’s superfine structural mastery with notable clarity, by the same token the emotional qualities within the Chaconne were less clear. Not that Kavakos’s performance was at all didactic, but one felt an occasional emphasis on the expressive nature of the longer single lines would have delved a little more beneath the surface to raise this interpretation to the highest level of all. Nonetheless, this was a deeply impressive account.

Nicholas Angelich. Photograph: Stéphane de BourgiesIt may have been thought a surprising choice to follow this with Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata, but this performance, with Nicholas Angelich an outstanding partner, was a revelation. This work, like Schumann’s two other violin sonatas, has long tended to lie somewhat outside the mainstream of such 19th-century works, but Kavakos – especially – raised it to the level of a neglected masterpiece. This was a reading of the finest quality, the interpretative gifts of this artist proving once and for all that the received opinion regarding Schumann’s late works is at times downright wrong. The audience responded to this masterly and committed performance with the keenest attention and spontaneous appreciation.

Bartók’s charming miniatures come from another world; Kavakos and Angelich were as one in their evident delight in this attractive music. The concluding performance of Enescu’s masterly Third Sonata would surely have earned the composer’s undying gratitude. This is a wide-ranging score, despite the folk-based provenance of much of its wholly original material, and it is one which demands a lot from the players in its constantly-shifting mood and tempo-changes. Kavakos and his partner were beyond praise or criticism: theirs was a great performance of a wonderful and original masterpiece.

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