Leonidas Kavakos’ Solo Bach

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Tully Potter’s booklet notes for this release discuss the recorded history of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas up through Arthur Grumiaux, as if the period performance movement in the last half-century never happened. I mention this because the movement’s precepts inform Leonidas Kavakos’ interpretations. He plays at the lower pitch used by most period performers and favors a pared down sonority, while his phrasing abounds with foreground/background delineation, agogic stresses, and creative embellishments.

If anything, the G minor Sonata and B minor Partita are less suave and more ascetic compared alongside Kavakos’ earlier 2005 ECM recordings. Yet repeated listening reveals a high degree of control and purposeful shaping within the threadbare fragility that Kavakos projects in big movements like the G minor and C major Fugues and the D minor Chaconne. The latter stands out for Kavakos’ multi-leveled soft dynamics and deft transitions that factor into the interpretation’s assiduous momentum.

Comparably microscopic attention to detail in the A minor Sonata’s gorgeous Andante movement, though, may strike some listeners as fussy and discontinuous, certainly when compared to Sergiu Luca’s more direct and fluent period performance, or to the warmth and lyrical breadth distinguishing more traditional-minded versions from James Ehnes, Uto Ughi, Nathan Milstein, and Itzhak Perlman. Ultimately I respect Kavakos’ Bach more than I genuinely enjoy it, yet he unquestionably projects his conceptions with no gap between ideation and execution.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Sei Solo
Reference Recording: Ehnes (Analekta); Milstein (DG)

  • BACH, J.S.:
    The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
  • Leonidas Kavakos (violin)

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