New York Philharmonic/Frühbeck Leonidas Kavakos

String Quintet in G minor, K516
Symphony No.100 in G (Military)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35

Glenn Dicterow & Michelle Kim (violins), Cynthia Phelps & Rebecca Young (viola), and Carter Brey (cello)

Leonidas Kavakos (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 27 November, 2010
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Rafael Frühbeck de BurgosMozart, a keyboard and violin virtuoso, was said to have preferred playing the viola at chamber-music gatherings. The first viola part takes on a significant role in his G minor String Quintet. Cynthia Phelps played her part with sensitivity, and the dialogue with the first violin was finely executed. Glenn Dicterow played with a light, sweet tone, with heavy use of vibrato and fluid, legato bowing. Although he incorporated a few Romantic touches in the way of portamento, his playing was well suited stylistically to this proto-Romantic work. The ensemble playing had a few rough edges, with some discrepancies in articulation of accompanying figures and entries that weren’t totally synchronized, but as a whole the artists played with intelligence of phrasing, making for a satisfying performance.

There was a large string section for Haydn’s Military Symphony. Although Haydn uses unusually heavy orchestration for the era in the slow movement, the piece would have been better served with a lighter touch. The performance was plagued by balance problems, with the bass end of the orchestra drowning out the melodic lines in the first violins. There was not enough dynamical contrast in the second movement, with the percussion section holding back in the louder sections, and the lighter sections feeling too weighty. The Minuet was heavy-handed and slow, and it dragged along dully.

Leonidas Kavakos. Photograph: Yannis BourniasRafael Frühbeck de Burgos had more success with the balance in the tutti sections of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, yet at times the orchestra came close to drowning out Leonidas Kavakos, despite his huge sound. In the first movement, the orchestra sometimes lagged behind the soloist, and there was a conspicuously early brass entry in the finale. Such problems did nothing to faze Kavakos, who nearly lost his balance and toppled over at the end of a phrase in the finale, so intense was his performance. He was not afraid to be a risk-taker, and his brusque bowing in faster passages had occasional notes that did not sound optimally, yet this only added to the thrill of the moment. His tone remained bright and intense even with the slowest of bow-strokes. He paced the cadenza passages with sensitivity, giving the breathing-room it needs. The excitement never waned. His efforts earned him a standing ovation at the end of the first movement, Frühbeck having great difficulty in finding a quiet moment to begin the serene ‘Canzonetta’.

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