Under the Radar: Bach-Stravinsky From Kavakos

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Since his emergence at the 1985 International Sibelius Competition, Leonidas Kavakos has always been among the most promising violinists of his generation, capable of greatness (his Sibelius, most strikingly) but not always consistently so (his Mozart, which he insisted on also conducting). This 2002 recording (released in 2005) about marks the middle of his career (so far) and it helped underpin that promise: A clever combination of unlikely disc-mates that works sensationally well. With such couplings as here–Stravinsky and Bach–it’s always a question of what role the works serve. Do they enhance each other mutually? Do they detract from one another? The answer here is that the Stravinsky is the cigar and the Bach the whisky. A cigar is not meant to enhance a whisky, the whisky is meant to enhance the cigar: Keep the palate stimulated and clean.

That’s what the first Solo Partita and Sonata–splendid, austere performances, incidentally–do, juxtaposed with Stravinsky’s neoclassical (and neo-baroque, respectively) Duo concertant and Suite italienne. The latter is Stravinsky’s and Samuel Dushkin’s arrangement for violin and piano from his ballet Pulcinella)–and it works terrifically. Kavakos never overeggs the pudding as his and Péter Nagy’s clean and clear-as-a-mountain-brook performance make it emerge as a sweet, immediately charming masterpiece–like Pergolesi peppered with Schnittke. The Duo Concertante is a tour-de-force of violinism, ferocious, dissonant, yet surprisingly catchy, lively and with magnificent lyrical rests. It’s never been made to sound more seductive than here, although Ilya Gringolts and Peter Laul in a recent release (BIS) come close. A Stravinsky-must-have.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Stravinsky: This one; Gringolts/Laul (BIS)

  • Leonidas Kavakos (violin); Péter Nagy (piano)

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