Sonata for violin and keyboard in E, BWV1016
Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op.105
Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.25 dans le caractère populaire roumain’
Leonidas Kavakos (violin) & Dénes Várjon (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 14 January, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Interesting how perceptions can alter between and, indeed, during concerts. Earlier encounters had suggested Leonidas Kavakos to be a violinist of great technical security, yet one whose emotional response was less held in reserve as placed somewhere beyond reach. A gripping account of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and David Robertson evinced real engagement: one that this Wigmore Hall recital demonstrated as being only intermittently, if thrillingly, in evidence.
Formally and expressively poised between High Baroque rigour and Classical diversion, Bach’s Violin Sonatas are always appropriate at the start of a recital such as this. Having consciously reduced his vibrato and his bowing to a minimum, Kavakos appeared disengaged in the initial Adagio, and hisphrasing was stolid and lacking suppleness in the ensuing Allegro. While the other movements were more successful, it was the pianism of Dénes Várjon that really impressed (as it did throughout the recital) – his articulation of part-writing helping to maintain more of an onward flow than there would otherwise have been.
Less often heard than its altogether more imposing successor, Schumann’s First Violin Sonata can seem to be more like three motif-related pieces than an integrated entity. Kavakos sustained the restive opening movement with telling understatement, though if his closing surge of bravura was meant to arise naturally, it failed to convince as such. The typically ‘knowing’ intermezzo that follows was winsomely dispatched, and if Kavakos could have drawn even greater expressive yearning from the finale, therather desperate sense of resolution that prevails at the close was palpably conveyed.
The two works that formed the second half were well contrasted in their scintillating and purposeful virtuosity. Bartók’s two Rhapsodies, while far less intense than the sonatas preceding them, are both typical products of his mature Classicism. The First Rhapsody, dedicated to Joseph Szigeti, is more compact and easy-going – the robust humour of its ‘Lassú’ section leading naturally into a ‘Friss’ which suggests that, however much Bartók disliked the Hungarian gypsy heritage from an aestheticstandpoint, he was more than happy to indulge its calculated emoting when the occasion arose.
If Kavakos was fully in his element here, it was in the ensuing performance of Enescu’s Third Sonata that the recital really took flight. Although the piece has had numerous champions since its premiere in 1926, including Ida Haendel and Isaac Stern, it occupies a place at the margin of the repertoire – perhaps because its fearsome technical demands serve an inward, wholly personal vision. Requirements that seem to bring the best out of Kavakos, who captured the self-contained emotional charge of the opening movement with rare poise, as he did the ethereal evocativeness of the Andante. The finale emerged with the right cumulative intensity, its closing surge made the outcome of a process as complex emotionally as it is musically.
A superb performance, then, which met with a deservedly enthusiastic response. As if to reinforce that his musicianship is all to do with a thoughtful searching out of emotion, Kavakos responded with a suitable encore, Ravel’s Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré – rendered here with affecting poignancy.