Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace in recital 2013

kavakosLeonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace in recital

Beethoven Sonata for violin and piano No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2
Debussy Sonata for violin and piano in G minor
Ravel Sonata posthume
Respighi Sonata for violin and piano in B minor

Tue Sep 3, 8:00pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

Review by Chay Choong

Leonidas Kavakos is, without a doubt, one of the best violinists in the world, but his real passion lies in chamber music. Together with Enrico Pace, the duo have been ‘burning up concert halls together since 2006’ (Carnegie Hall) and some have compared them to the legendary David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter partnership.

The theme of the night was ‘synergy’. Both musicians were incredible partners; when one is in the limelight, you almost forget the existence of the other. So unified was their partnership that several times through the night, during a solo, I was shocked into the realization that the music-making was from the collaboration from two minds rather than one.

Kavakos and Pace have been working together for a long time. Earlier this year, they released Kavakos’ debut Decca album with the complete cycle of Beethoven Violin Sonatas. Perhaps their amazing teamwork was born from the hours they’ve spent performing and recording the music together. Beethoven’s music is often challenging, and his seventh violin sonata, the most mature work of the Op. 30 trio, requires the highest degree of cohesiveness between the violin and the piano. The duo was perfectly coordinated, down to their well-placed rubatos and extreme crispness in their sound.

Kavakos never made huge gestures or inhaled loudly to aid Pace’s accompaniment, they were so comfortable playing with each other that they didnot require any visual or auditory hints to know when to start and end together.  Unlike many chamber music performances when musicians are often seem lost in their own world, Kavakos and Pace delighted in presenting the work to the audience. Kavakos, in particular, loved to turn to the audience and glance upwards briefly, before launching into an astounding display of finesse, as if he were a magician saying calmly, “witness the miracle that’s I’m about to reveal.”

Debussy’s ‘Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor’ was a splendid showcase of Kavakos’s bow hand. His flawless double stops, sautillé (bouncing) bowing and the ability to reproduce a variety of timbre at will, even on open strings, were astounding. In the last movement, he even showed off ‘bow vibratos’, which had a certain visual appeal, though I’m not sure if they were audibly more dramatic.

Kavakos’s bow hold is rather interesting. Before rising to prominence, he has been using the Franco-Belgian grip but switched over to the Russian style (possibly due to the influence of his mentor Josef Gingold) prior to winning the Sibelius Competition in 1985. While the Russian grip is sometimes known as the Auer grip, Leopold Auer himself often teaches that the best bow hold should be flexible – one that caters to the violinist’s limitations and comfortable enough for expressive freedom. The Russian grip is notorious for inducing tension in the fingers from the prolonged pronation in the wrist, resulting in stiffness, and it seems that Kavakos has modified it by exercising the fingers at the frog and relaxing his wrist sometimes when he is at the tip of the bow (to draw strength from the weight of the arm instead).

Kavakos demonstrated the full extent of his expressivity in Ravel’s ‘Sonata posthume’, and the diversity of his tone was amazing. He varied his tone almost schizophrenically, creating a bizarre, yet strangely alluring atmosphere. Pace’s performance was equally stunning, exhibiting in his solos a level of tonal intricacy that pushed the limits of the piano.

Just like Heifetz and Perlman, Kavakos has a distinct and easily identifiable sound. By the last piece, Respighi’s three-movement Sonata for Violin for Piano in B minor, his sound was instantly familiar. He performed the piece, which he believes to be one of the finest n the violin repertoire, as if it were his own composition, with a deeply moving second movement. A central part of the music is its dynamic swells, and Kavakos brought it out excellently. I was particularly intrigued by his use of a slight dip in intonation at diminuendos of long notes. Though it is perhaps generally considered an imperfect technique, it created a magical effect. The last movement displayed an unprecedented ferocity in Pace’s playing, reminding the audience that it was his superb accompaniment, as well as Kavakos’s impeccable performance, that made the night a rousing success.

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