Leonidas Kavakos: Virtuoso
It’s not just the enticing morceaux on offer and the undiluted pleasure of hearing a great violinist at the top of his game (musically and technically). It’s Kavakos’s knack of treating the microphone as though it were a group of his close friends who have been invited round to his place. You are given the impression of eavesdropping on a pair of musicians having a real blast (Enrico Pace is the other – a marvellously attentive but far from self effacing accompanist). The programme is a collection of 15 end-of recital dazzlers (well, 14 – Britten’s odd Reveille falls outside the category of crowd-pleaser) of the kind that furnished violin recitals in the past before they became the hellish serious business they are today.
Stravinsky’s ‘Danse russe’ from Petrushka and soulful ‘Chanson russe’ (both given in the transcriptions by Samuel Dushkin) open proceedings and set the tone. The first glimpse of Kavakos’s fabulous agility comes at the end of Sarasate’s Caprice Basque but is emphatically underlined a few tracks further on with Paganini’s Introduction and Variations on ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ from Paisello’s La molinara (the track before is de Falla’s ‘Danza del molinero’ – smart).
This is playing that sorts out the men from the boys. I doubt if there is more than a handful of violinists alive who can match Kavakos in the tonal variety, accuracy and speed of his harmonics, or in the deft alternation of bowing and left-hand pizzicato. In fact, I wonder if Paganini would have equalled him. Then there is the perfect evenness of moto perpetuo semiquavers in Recuerdos de la Alhambra – a remarkable feat at this speed, even if the violin begins to sound like a pesky mosquito disturbing one’s siesta rather than the soulful song it is on the guitar.
Elsewhere there is charm aplenty (Elgar’s La Capricieuse, Váša Příhoda’s arrangement of the waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier) and tender introspection (Tchaikovsky’s ‘Valse sentimentale’). And if you thought Dvořák’s ‘Humoresque’ was beyond parody, think again in this heart-wrenching rendition by Kavakos and Pace. You can almost see the smiles of affection on the faces of their imaginary audience – just as clearly as Kavakos’s mischievous twinkle when he dashes off Wieniawski’s Capriccio-valse, another delicious bon-bon we should hear more often. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a violin recital quite as much as this. And it’s complemented by Tully Potter’s genial booklet and an ideal recorded balance between the two artists.