Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang play Brahms’s Violin Sonatas at Barbican Hall

The Sonatas for Violin and Piano:
No.1 in G, Op.78
No.2 in A, Op.100
No.3 in D minor, Op.108

Leonidas Kavakos (violin) & Yuja Wang (piano)

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 17 October, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Leonadis Kavakos. Photograph: Marco BorggreveIf one accepts that chamber-music recitals are usually of less appeal to audiences than orchestral concerts, it was good to see a reasonably well-filled Barbican Hall on this occasion. A number of latecomers were fortunate not to be excluded from the first item played, since it was not until ten minutes after the advertised starting time of 7.30 that Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang came on to the platform.

To some music-lovers an evening of all three of Brahms’s Violin Sonatas might seem too much of a good thing, since they share a common mood of introspection and slight melancholy – one might sympathise with the late impresario and record producer Walter Legge, who used to call Brahms “Gloomy Joe”. But, all three Sonatas are superlatively wrought examples of the composer’s full maturity.

From the opening paragraphs of the First Sonata it was clear that we were in for an evening of high-quality music-making. The tempo was perfect, the balance between violin and piano ideal, and both artists played with a lovely tone quality, warmth of expression and immaculate technique, and they seemed perfectly attuned to each other’s artistic sensibilities. And so it continued. Throughout the evening Kavakos and Wang captured the music’s varying moods in sympathetic, sensitive and understanding fashion, with beautifully shaped turns of phrase and a clear, though supple rhythmic pulse.

Yuja Wang. Photograph: NCPA Gan YuanOf particular delight was the way Wang introduced a charmingly fresh, tripping rhythm to the Vivace section of the Second Sonata’s second movement: this young pianist has the insights and acumen usually only acquired by an artist who has been playing over a long lifetime, and at every point she fully matched the greatly experienced Kavakos in the quality of her playing. It must of course have been a great advantage to both artists that they had recently recorded all three sonatas for Decca. (A highly recommended release – Ed.)

It was to be anticipated that the first encore would be the Scherzo from the composite ‘FAE’ Sonata, written by Brahms as his contribution to a work also involving Schumann and Albert Dietrich. Next, it was Schumann himself, the slow movement of his A minor Sonata (WoO 2) and then the ‘Russian Dance’ from Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka, arranged by Samuel Dushkin and thrillingly played.

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