Friday, 1 April 2016

Leonidas Kavakos: Virtuoso

The geographical distribution of major violinists has been pretty uneven. By “major”, I mean violinists who have achieved significant international recognition. Many major violinists from France and Belgium, from Germany and Austria, from Central Europe, from Russia and the old Russian lands, from Scandinavia, from China, from South Korea, from Japan, from Canada, from America. None I can think of from South America or the whole of Africa. And from Spain: nothing since Pablo de Sarasate. From Italy: nothing since Paganini. And from Greece: nothing since Leonidas Kavakos, whose latest CD had just been entertaining me for an hour or so.

The CD – fifteen well-known short violin pieces – is titled Virtuoso. Kavakos, one of my favourite violinists, reveals himself as very much the Gentle Virtuoso. There is no showing off, no grand-standing, no exaggerated effects, even in this showing-off music. It is difficult to play these fifteen pieces and still be memorable when compared with the enormous number of competitors. Something that helps maintain interest throughout this recital of short encore pieces is the way Kavakos varies the dynamics, both between different pieces, and within pieces. No hesitation: Kavakos is a true virtuoso, but he is also a thinking virtuoso, much as Pablo de Sarasate must have been. Not too much bravura and milking the audience here; Kavakos starts with an immaculate Danse Russe from Petrouchka, and ends with a tender Humoresque from Dvorak. The CD also includes his familiar party-piece, the Recuerdos de l'Alhambra by Tarrega as arranged by Ruggiero Ricci (and played here a lot better than Ricci played it in a 1978 recording I have by him). I have been a Kavakos fan since the late 1980s, and he has very rarely if ever disappointed. Even the over-familiar pieces on this CD come up almost shining new — Sarasate's Caprice Basque and Romanza Andaluza, for example. A very fine CD.

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