New York Philharmonic (Lionel Bringuier) / PROKOFIEV
“Mr. Bringuier was then joined by the formidable violinist Leonidas Kavakos for a brilliant account of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor. Mr. Kavakos’s playing combines utter mastery of the instrument with rich sound and searching musicianship. He brought a questioning quality to the opening solo phrases, signaling that he was intent on revealing the complexities, both musical and emotional, beneath the Neo-Classical surface of this 1935 work.
In the first movement, when episodes of busy passagework for the violin break out, the music often sounds like an insistent toccata. But Mr. Kavakos and Mr. Bringuier brought out the uneasy restlessness of these episodes.
Mr. Kavakos also teased out the quizzical strands and shifting moods of the deceptively tranquil slow movement. And he was dazzling in the rustic, dancing finale. Mr. Bringuier drew comparably incisive and colorful playing from the Philharmonic.”
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, June 2013
Orchestre de Paris (Paavo Järvi) / SIBELIUS
At Salle Pleyel
“Leonidas Kavakos… gave a performance of such terrifying intensity and so many blazing risks with Paavo Jarvi and the Orchestre de Paris that it was two Bach encores and ten minutes more before the Salle Pleyel audience would let him go.”
Norman Lebrecht, Arts Journal, April 2013
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Jansons) / BARTÓK
At Kennedy Center, Washington
“…the violinist Leonidas Kavakos… with a golden tone and an easy command of this concerto’s challenges that matched the intense insouciance of Jansons’s approach.
Kavakos brought fire aplenty to the skitterings of the final movement […] but the urbane restraint he brought to the second movement was even more notable.”
Anne Midgette, Washington Post, February 2013
Philadelphia Orchestra (Nézet-Séguin) / SZYMANOWSKI
At Carnegie Hall, New York
“…Kavakos soared in the ethereal indulgences, crackled in the propulsive Kochanski cadenza yet always avoided the traps of expressive excess.”
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, five stars, January 2013
“Kavakos’s performance merged purity of tone, unfailing technical skill and a thorough understanding of Szymanowski’s idiom; his treatment of the cadenza was mesmerizing.”
Lewis M. Smoley, ClassicalSource.com, January 2013
London Symphony Orchestra (Gergiev) / SZYMANOWSKI
“…Kavakos’s performance was typically commanding in the concerto, which emerged as an eloquent and noble work.”
Michael Church, Independent, December 2012
London Symphony Orchestra (Vänskä) / SIBELIUS
“I can’t remember when I last heard such a soaring roar of applause in the Barbican Hall. And then slowly, one by one, the audience rose to its feet. This was no diva: this was Leonidas Kavakos at the end of his performance of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.
Kavakos has been bonding ever more closely with the London Symphony Orchestra during the course of his LSO Artist Portrait. And this was one of the greats in the performing history of the work itself. Kavakos found himself with a true soulmate in the presence of Osmo Vänskä: both conductor and soloist share a strong, sinewy, totally unsentimental view of this work.
…the most desolate, distant solo voice imaginable — here, as everywhere, sung out in a perfect intonation that seemed superhuman. Kavakos played with a fierce concentration and clarity, facing the orchestra during their interludes and finding a rare depth of resonance and detailed involvement with them.”
Hilary Finch, Times, five stars, December 2012
“…Kavakos's wonderfully secure playing in the concerto was faultless. For all his technical brilliance, Kavakos is a self-effacing player; he never put a foot wrong here, and made his points with a minimum of fuss.”
Andrew Clements Guardian, five stars, December 2012
“Having jointly recorded both versions of this work, the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and the Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska were uniquely well placed to deliver this performance of the second.
…Kavakos made his entry with a notably spacious and singing tone.
The little bursts of solo pyrotechnics punctuating the first movement were exquisitely done, and in the elegiac Adagio his sound was compelling even when it sank to a whisper. The final Allegro saw orchestra and soloist achieving an ideal synergy, with Kavakos’s sound shining brightly against the bass-heavy backdrop.”
Michael Church, Independent, five stars, December 2012
“Together with the LSO, this was something of a dream team in the concerto that launched the Greek violinist’s career.
…the Violin Concerto received one of those defining performances that summed up everything you could possibly want from this great work. Kavakos was extraordinary, seeming almost reluctant to let his opening gambit of frozen isolation defrost enough to spread its wings and start gathering into hyper-expressive identity. He played a long game, investing the appearances of the bard-like motto theme with subtly varied shades of character and holding back time with the intensity of his playing in the first movement cadenzas. His guru-like overview of the concerto’s rhapsody and drama dovetailed completely with Vänskä’s interactive blend of symphonic assertion and veiled retreat, with the LSO surpassing itself.”
Peter Reed, ClassicalSource.com, December 2012
London Symphony Orchestra (Bychkov) / BERG
“Written in memory of Manon, the daughter of Alma Mahler who died from polio at the age of 18, its emotional and linguistic kinship was made touchingly apparent in the deeply pondered, profoundly inward performance of Kavakos.
…there was Kavakos’s violin itself, thermalling above it all, never over-ripe in its lyricism, melancholy and mordant in dance, and rapt in restraint. Kavakos played into the heart of cataclysm, then rose through the variations of the Bach chorale, exquisitely sung out by the woodwind. A single Bach solo Partita as an encore breathed out the same stillness, poise and perfection.”
Hilary Finch, Times, November 2012
“The soloist in Berg’s violin concerto was Leonidas Kavakos, a violinist with just the heroic strength and purity of tone to penetrate through Berg’s turbid and sometimes over-scored concerto. Some violinists like to play up the disjunction between the music’s elements, the way it veers between apparently incompatible things: stifled modernist anguish, tenderly nostalgic folk-melody, a faded Viennese waltz.
Kavakos made it seem all of a piece, with everything aspiring towards a celestial purity. I’ve never heard the crabbed four-part canon for solo violin in the 2nd movement — a curious island of hard-nosed modernism in this deeply romantic piece - seem so easy and natural. As if inspired by Kavakos’s example, the orchestra attained a pearly delicacy of sound”
Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph, November 2012
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Jansons) / BARTÓK
At Lucerne Festival
“Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto … was notable for receiving the single most sensational performance I have heard at this year’s festival.
…the integrity and artistry of his performance … showed a profound understanding of the score. There was place in his performance for charisma and flair too – punishing technical passages were dispatched with electrifying panache – but with gaze firmly fixed on his strings he concerned himself with playing the concert at hand and not the audience.”
Bachtrack, September 2012
Verbier Festival Orchestra (Honeck) / KORNGOLD
“One note. A single note. All it took was one violin note. A single note from Leonidas Kavakos for the atmosphere to suddenly be charged with emotion. He played the first note of Korngold’s violin concerto with such sensitivity and intensity. And yet, there was nothing particularly brilliant about this note; nothing flashy. But it was so pure, drawn with the utmost simplicity from the violin. There were no mannerisms in Kavakos’s playing. He was simply there, completely dedicated to the music. This soloist made a most unusual impression. He stood firmly entrenched in front of the orchestra, almost absent from the proceedings, as if in a different world. And yet he was part of the music; part of the orchestra. It was as if he were an orchestral section or desk all to himself.
“And what a sound he made! A sound that was most powerful, and yet which seemed to emerge from the instrument without the slightest effort. It was as if Kavakos was allowing his bow to steer the music. He watched his bow rising and falling as if he himself weren’t the motor behind this movement. These were magical moments; truly lived-in moments; moments of musical authenticity and of emotional intensity that are all too rarely experienced.
“On the podium, German conductor Manfred Honeck leant over his music stand, arms wide open, reaching towards the orchestra, waving his arms slowly from left to right, weaving a cloth of harmonies from the orchestra, on which to lay Leonidas Kavakos’s violin tones. These were moments of true communion, where no-one was looking at anyone else, but where the musicians all found each other in symbiosis. Ethereal, then dazzling, the Greek violinist set the terms in establishing the intensity of the sound. He suspended the music, and the audience hung on to his every movement; his bowing, his tone, the fullness and the simplicity with which he performed the piece.
Like a magician, Kavakos conjured up colours, images and stories from his music. Enclosing the auditorium in an indescribable dream, he touched our very souls. The audience began to wonder about the nature of the violin, the spirit which must inhabit it, the sound it emitted, the person who was touching, caressing and enfolding it. The Greek violinist definitely left his mark on this piece of music.”
Jacques Schmitt, ResMusica, August 2012
BBC Symphony Orchestra (Belohlávek) / KORNGOLD
At Kissinger Sommer
“In Johann Brahms’s Violin Concerto, he played with a transparent, rich and radiant tone which the audience could really savour.
And so … a fascinating dialogue emerged right in front of the audience’s eyes, between the soloist and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in which at times Kavakos made the most of his freedom and played the softest and most exciting quiet passages imaginable without being overwhelmed by the orchestra, and at others Jirí Belohlávek took hold of the reins once more and brought the soloist back into the orchestra. And so, almost as if expected, amongst the many moments of power play, the slow second movement emerged as the dreamy highlight of the evening."
Thomas Ahnert, Saaler-Zeitung, June 2012
New York Philharmonic Orchestra (Gilbert) / KORNGOLD
“Mr. Kavakos dispatched the intricate, dazzling violin part with gleaming tone and brilliance.”
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, June 2012
London Symphony Orchestra (Gergiev) / STRAVINSKY
“Then on came violinist Leonidas Kavakos for Stravinsky's Violin Concerto. The moment he flung out its peremptory opening chords the evening snapped into focus. It's the most joyously balletic of the great violin concertos, and the joy comes out best when played as Kavakos and the orchestra played it – superbly controlled, the gestures placed exactly, with aristocratic poise.”
Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph, May 2012
“Gergiev and his orchestra attuned beautifully to the smooth, smoky timbre and relaxed, almost debonair manner of the soloist, Leonidas Kavakos. Some might wish for a more gutsy interpretation, but to my mind the cool and lightly worn brilliance of Kavakos suits the work better.”
Guy Dammann, Guardian, May 2012
“Neo Classical, neo Baroque, neo pretty much everything, the Violin Concerto was in every sense “celebrated” by the remarkably brilliant but unassuming Leonidas Kavakos. How he relished the motoric energy of the outer movements, not least the sinister devil-may-care allusions to “The Soldier's Tale” in the finale despatched here with terrific bouncing bow aplomb.”
Edward Seckerson, Independent, May 2012
Gewandhasorchester Leipzig (Chailly) / SHOSTAKOVICH
At Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona
“Exceptional Kavakos – Greek violinist captivates the Palau.
Pure magic. The interpretation of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1 by the Gewandhaus, conducted by Riccardo Chailly, and Leonidas Kavakos will go down in the annals of the Palau."
El Periódico de Catalunya, May 2012
At Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
“Leonidas Kavakos’s performance of Shostakovich’s First violin concerto was captivating from beginning to end: he played the virtuosic passages with great precision; the dynamics were remarkably well nuanced; the legato was sumptuous; the phrasing was unctuous; his bowing was firm; and the tone was full. This Greek violinist, who cultivates a laid-back look (long hair and designer stubble), holds all the winning cards. His interpretation of the piece was outstanding in its naturalness and its contrasts, especially the contrast between the marvellously evocative Nocturne, and a ferocious, dazzling and lightning-quick Burlesque. The cadenza excelled, with its compelling progression and accomplished architecture. Despite the audience’s insistence, the soloist did not play even the shortest of encores; but after such a tour de force, what did he have left to prove?”
Sébastien Foucart, ConcertoNet.com, May 2012
Berliner Philharmoniker (Dudamel) / KORNGOLD
“Once again, Leonidas Kavakos drove the audience at the Philharmonie wild with his aristocratic, velvety, lyrical tone, playing Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s violin concerto. You might not agree with me, but this piece is in essence a real show piece; a compilation of adventure movie soundtracks. If he hadn’t performed the piece with a pinch of cheekiness, and hadn’t attempted a little dangerous flirtation with the audience, but instead had leaned stoically into his Stradivarius in the lyrical moments, and simply played alongside the orchestra in the vivacious passages, then I’m sorry, but he’d have missed the point.”
Frederik Hanssen, Der Tagesspiegel, April 2012
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Gergiev) / SIBELIUS
At Salle Pleyel, Paris
“After such a wonderful start to the evening came the most interesting part, because it was the most original, engaged, risky and yet most succesful. This was Sibelius's violin concerto played as if in defiance of gravity; decanted and purified, yet consistant, expressive, fleshy and carnal, with a rare elegance.
Of all the performances I have heard by this brilliant violinist, this was without doubt the most personal, steadfast and captivating.”
Patrick Georges Montaigu, ResMusica, March 2012
National Symphony Orchestra (Eschenbach) / BRAHMS
“…it was the Brahms that made it a special evening at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall.
Thursday’s opening was Brahms Violin Concerto, with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist … it was a performance that put a lie to the idea that Brahms’s music is turgid and overblown.
Kavakos has, at his fingertips (or, perhaps more accurately, in his bow arm) both the silvery tone that many violinists prize, as well as a gutsy generous warmth where he needs it. His double stops are effortless, and his legato sounds as if he could draw it out forever. But most of all, he has the sense to use all this intelligently and to avoid anything showy.
Kavakos received a standing ovation (doesn’t everyone? — but he deserved it). He responded, as an encore, with an introspective movement from one of Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonatas.”
Joan Reinthaler, Washington Post, November 2011
London Symphony Orchestra (Gergiev) / DUTILLEUX: L’Arbre des Songes
At BBC Proms 2011
“Leonidas Kavakos was the outstanding soloist in [Dutilleux’s] 1985 violin concerto L'Arbre des Songes, which he last performed in London with these forces only two years ago. He was just as eloquent this time, weaving fluid lines in and out of dark orchestral textures spiced with cimbalom and bells.”
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, five stars, August 2011
Vienna Symphony Orchestra / MOZART; HAYDN; SCHUBERT
“With relaxed, expressive hands he painted lines in space indicating mood, shaping and intention, and the Symphoniker followed his lead with perfection.
Kavakos got his baton out and conducted without score and with a new stature of majesty and command, guiding the orchestra…from the warm horn intro of the first movement through the haunting secondary theme with its dotted rhythms and echoing horn calls; to the highlight of the first movement, a stunning trombone melody with strings soaring above; there was magic to spare.”
Chanda VanderHart, Bach Track, June 2013
Chamber Orchestra of Europe / MOZART; PROKOFIEV; SCHUBERT
At Opéra de Dijon
“In their beautifully precise performance of Prokofiev's First Symphony, the COE unfurled both wild energy and unbelievable power: the thematic elements sprang from one desk to another, keeping the audience listening intently. Each motif emerged out of an orchestral sound kept in balance by every single musician.
In this second piece of the concert, Kavakos was no longer the soloist but the conductor, swiftly swapping his violin for a baton. His conducting gave impetus to the musical discourse. He didn't give the beat with his right hand, even though this was Prokofiev; instead, his baton sketched the contours of his musical interpretation. Leonidas Kavakos was like a sculptor shaping a block of pure marble with confidence, inspiration and freedom.”
Lorraine Wild, Le Bien Public, October 2012
Boston Symphony Orchestra / J.S. BACH; LUTOSLAWSKI; BEETHOVEN
“Kavakos has been known for decades as a musician’s violinist of wide-ranging curiosity and musicianship, but his turn at conducting was not merely a soloist’s ego trip, but also resulted in an appealing concert where the attention to detail was telling... His repertoire includes works as big as Brahms’s First Symphony … and his ambition is to conduct Bruckner.
Kavakos and the BSO strings had a field day with [the Lutoslawski Muzyka zalobna]; the intervals were tuned with precision, and the unison melody was delivered with the kind of full-throated, throbbing gusto that would fit in well in a Shostakovich symphony.
After intermission, Kavakos led Beethoven’s Symphony #4 in B-flat, op. 60, without score or baton. … Kavakos used his entire body to shape lines with sinuous flexibility, and the orchestra responded with a terrific performance. Throughout the symphony, the BSO demonstrated impressive dynamic range, playing hushed pianissimo moments with plenty of core sound, causing overtones to ring around. Loud segments were beautifully balanced, and the slow-burn crescendi to the loud segments were skillfully judged. Musical motifs moved between different sections seamlessly.
All those touches suggest a perfectionist conductor who insists on nailing all the details, tuning all the chords, balancing all the sections.”
James C.S. Liu, Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 2012
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra / MOZART; BEETHOVEN
“… what Kavakos brings is a tone that seems sent from God — bright, sweet and as pure as can be. “The cadenza, which I believe he wrote himself, was extravagant and challenging, but he played it with such confidence and lack of pretension that it seemed just a natural extension of the movement.
…Kavakos gave the score a shape and an overall feeling that was refined and understated.
Kavakos’ approach is not to milk the work for all of its dramatic impact. He never overdoes the volume or gets carried away with the timpani.
Kavakos is fun to watch … His conducting is quirky: mostly barehanded, ambidextrous, with lots of elbow and wrist action.”
James L. Paulk, ArtsATL.com, March 2012
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / J.S. BACH; LUTOSLAWSKI; SCHUMANN
“Kavakos had already given virtuoso performances of the classic violin concertos with the DSO, and now he was giving his debut performance as both soloist and conductor. First, he played Johann Sebastian Bach’s reconstructed violin concerto in D minor as one radiant violinist amongst other violinists, nestled into the choral tutti in the sorrowful second movement, with the most delicately nuanced ornamentation. In the double-stopping passages, his Stradivarius sounded like an entire orchestra. The audience in the Philharmonie could tell that the orchestral violinists loved this Greek violinist.
“Then he took up his baton. Striving to “broaden his musical horizons”, he has already made an impact in the world of conducting ...
“Then came Robert Schumann, held by many including Kavakos to be “the most romantic of all composers”. Kavakos ennobled the difficult Second Symphony in C major with his unpretentious and stimulating conducting [...] a tender, lyrical quality dominated the performance, as the conductor, listening closely to the orchestral technique, strove to keep the music light as a feather.”
Sybill Mahlke, Der Tagesspiegel, May 2011
Camerata Salzburg / J.S. BACH; LUTOSLAWSKI; MOZART
At Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
“His incipient conducting career (this was the first time I had seen him on the podium) seemed impressive. He moves well and naturally. His directions are clear and pertinent.
Kavakos allowed and encouraged the darting thematic and rhythmic charges to push through the orchestra from the double basses up like an emboldened mob in the Allegro spiritoso [of Mozart’s Linz Symphony] and seemed to make a noticeable virtue of the dark coloration in the coda of that same movement.
That the young orchestra could deal with colour, ensemble, balance and dynamic was clear. There was just one last test for Kavakos. Structure. Could he shape over time? As I pondered this thought, the exhilarating airborne last movement that had been darting through clouds and squalls suddenly delivered a final perfectly judged kick of the heels. A-plus, Mr Kavakos.”
Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Arts Desk, November 2009
Hertz Hall, Berkeley, with Enrico Pace / BEETHOVEN
“Kavakos dispatched Beethoven’s motives with confidence and measured elegance. His mastery of the violin is so complete that it gives the impression that nothing stands between him and the composer.
The duo’s rhythmic cohesion felt natural and almost effortless. It was the kind of unified music-making that gels only after many hours together in the rehearsal and recording studio.
[The 'Spring' Sonata] was phrased in this reading with beautiful simplicity and grace. Slight breaths in time where the main material is passed from the violin to piano added both nuanced individuality and surprise to the performance. The duo’s approach to Beethoven was more gentle than the brash, angry characterization that is so popular.”
San Francisco Classical Voice, February 2013
Hahn Hall, Santa Barbara, with Enrico Pace / BEETHOVEN
“…he really hit his stride for this all-Beethoven recital, which gleamed with sonic perfection from beginning to end. Kavakos conveyed the dreaminess and latent passion of the Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, with elegance and controlled force, hinting at what was to come.
The Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 (“Spring”), allowed Kavakos to display his very exact phrasing and pleasing, liquid tone […] It was on this piece that we began to see the fire within this musician’s outward calm — the red lining of his black silk coat, as it were.
The red within the black was on full display in the second half, as Kavakos offered a stunning, highly memorable reading of theSonata No. 9 in A Major ('Kreutzer'). One of the great wonders of the repertoire met with an exuberant yet focused celebrant, and the result was inspired. A bracing Stravinsky encore sent everyone out the door and into the night a little dazzled from this unusually powerful display.”
Santa Barbara Independent, February 2013
The Barbican, London, with Nikolai Lugansky / JANÁČEK; BRAHMS; STRAVINSKY; RESPIGHI
“It was a real treat: they're both fantastic players, at once intelligent and intense, and together they form a genuine partnership of equals, with no sense of the piano taking a subordinate or accompanying role.
Written during the first world war, [Respighi’s Violin Sonata is] a post-Romantic piece of grand gestures, which allowed Kavakos to display both his weighty lyricism and the extraordinary fullness of his double stopping.
Kavakos and Lugansky achieved something near perfection with Brahms's Violin Sonata No 1 in G major – a beautifully considered, understated performance in which every phrase spoke volumes. Stravinsky's Duo Concertante, meanwhile, was the embodiment of virtuosic neoclassical cool, with Kavakos displaying dexterous refinement.
…this was an outstanding evening: bliss from start to finish.”
Tim Ashley, Guardian, five stars, December 2012
Wiener Musikverein with Emanuel Ax / BEETHOVEN
“Visually speaking, Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos made a very strange pair: flowing dark hair on the one side, closely-cut white hair on the other. But acoustically, the pianist and the violinist performing at the Wiener Musikverein were on the same wavelength. Kavakos played his solo programme without soloistic behaviour, and Ax accompanied him on the piano with the most delicate layers of sound. And vice versa: Kavakos performed the violin sonatas as chamber music, not as acts of daring. Accompaniment and solo changed places in clear contrast to each other, and the structure of the pieces was sketched out with great depth of field. On a musical level, this was an intimate dialogue between violin and piano.
Kavakos adapted his technical means to the stylistic requirements of Beethoven’s period. His vibrato was not poured like a thick sauce over all the pieces, but instead was consciously used for expressive effect. His light, swift bow strokes produced a sound rich in overtones and lingering sforzati. Kavakos and Ax enlivened the closing Sonata in C minor with strong accents and long, soaring melodic lines, moving the audience to delight.
Rainer Elstner, Wiener Zeitung, October 2012
Salzburger Festival with Enrico Pace / BEETHOVEN
“A passionate, fiery presto with intense bowing and biting high notes: this was the beginning of the Sonata in A minor, Op.23, and Kavakos and his Stradivarius were on top form playing this rebellious piece. The first movement was thrilling and gripping, then in the Andante scherzoso, Kavakos played with a gentle tone, and barely any vibrato, engaging in a playful, teasing, slightly naïve dialogue with the piano, from which Pace drew sensitive and moving tones. The violin and piano created a wonderful air of sensitivity and fragility in the third movement, playing with refined yet simple delicacy.
In the “Spring” sonata, Op.24, which is the better known, more melodic and therefore more memorable of the sonatas, the tone remained simple. Kavakos was not interested in creating special effects just for the sake of it … which proved fundamentally worthwhile, as intimacy and sincerity were the key to this interpretation. Pace made the piano sing, without becoming schmaltzy. The intertwined love dialogue of the Adagio molto espressivo gradually faded to silence; you could have heard a pin drop in the concert hall.
The Sonata in G major, Op. 96, is lyrical and serenely calm in character; the musicians played the first movement as a flowing dialogue with cheerful squabbles, timid doubts, shy questions, and short partings of ways between the two instruments, before coming together again to scale the heights; a vivid and natural performance. There were also touchingly beautiful moments in the Scherzo, when Pace played the piano so tenderly, and Kavakos peacefully joined in, picking up the main theme again with heart-felt gentleness.
“The enraptured audience clapped until they were rewarded with an encore, with rounded off the successful evening in a spirited fashion.”
Christiane Keckeis, DrehPunktKultur, August 2012
Edinburgh International Festival with Nikolai Lugansky / JANÁCEK; BRAHMS; STRAVINSKY; RESPIGHI
“What a cracker of a recital yesterday by the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky.
It wasn’t about showmanship, and it certainly wasn’t about playing to popular taste, as the playlist of Janacek, Brahms, Stravinsky and Respighi readily acknowledged.
Instead, we witnessed a compelling demonstration of cerebral integrity that was intelligently structured, poetically expressed and profoundly moving, with any outward expressions of passion reserved for where it mattered.
That’s not to suggest any lack of excitement. Janacek’s violin sonata, which Kavakos unfolded with a teasing degree of emotional restraint, inviting us cautiously into the composer’s frenetic world rather than demanding our presence. By the close of it, though, we were completely drawn in.
The engaging synergy between the two musicians was fundamental in imbuing Brahms’s G major sonata with a subtle lyrical glow…
Then there were the mutually ignited fireworks of Stravinsky’s gauchely excitable Duo Concertant. And ending with Respighi’s violin sonata in B minor recalled the spirit of Brahms, mind-blowing though it was in its final earth-trembling bars. A major treat."
Kenneth Walton, Scotsman, five stars, August 2012
Carnegie Hall, New York with Enrico Pace / PROKOFIEV; AUERBACH; BEETHOVEN
“Defining the Art of Gravity With Strings and a Bow
There is an art to projecting seriousness of intent and gravity of expression without giving in to ponderousness and angst, and for the most part the violinist Leonidas Kavakos was its master during his recital at Zankel Hall on Tuesday evening.
Revered widely as a fiddler’s fiddler, Mr. Kavakos possesses flawless technique and a knack for conveying intensity without resorting to histrionics.
Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1, the opening work in the program, set the tone for the first half. The music starts as insinuation rather than flourish or pounce; Mr. Kavakos and Mr. Pace began with a conspiratorial hush, eliciting a palpable silence in the hall.
For all the beauty and evenness of his tone Mr. Kavakos did not shirk at sounding coarse when the music demanded it; his instrument barked and bit suitably in the brittle Allegro brusco. An unearthly sweetness in the third movement and the vertiginous tandem slalom of the finale completed as fine an account as you could ever wish to hear.
The second half of the program was devoted to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A (“Kreutzer”), a virtuosic work ideally suited to the felicitous chemistry between Mr. Kavakos and Mr. Pace. Their interpretation showed eminent poise and authority as well as a flexibility that attested to keen listening and added a welcome hint of spontaneity.”
Steve Smith, New York Times, November 2011
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society with Enrico Pace / PROKOFIEV; AUERBACH; BEETHOVEN
“Artistry as extreme as Leonidas Kavakos' can be exhausting.
Admirably, the Greek violinist has risen to the top of his profession in tandem with artistic evolution that few artists experience over a lifetime, much less a dozen years.
Musically, his firm, glowing tone and ability to get to the heart of a phrase were more apparent than ever.”
David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2011
With Enrico Pace (piano) / BEETHOVEN Violin Sonatas ~
Decca Classics 0289 478 3523 3
“Kavakos' tone is both sweet and full-blooded, never overblown; Pace's contribution is lithe, characterful and sensitive.
…In the hands of Kavakos and Pace the opening chords of Op.12 No.1 are a positive statement of intent for the whole cycle – bold, incisive and bristling with energy – and the set proceeds to bubble along with terrific energy; slow movements are graceful and luminous. The honeyed opening melody of the “Spring” sonata, and the dreamy, mill-pond tranquillity of its Adagio, are highlights.
The duo doesn't succumb to the temptation of imposing a late-Beethovenian romantic weight onto these early works – the performances sing and dance with youthful vigour, paying due homage to the music's classical roots, and finely harnessing the exciting romantic frisson that Beethoven injects into the mix. Aptly, the grandeur is notched up for the final sonata – Kavakos' professed favourite – Op.96 from 1812.”
BBC Music Magazine, March 2013
“A masterly set that combines Beethovenian ferocity and gentleness
Leonidas Kavakos plays Beethoven’s early violin sonatas with a nice sense of scale. The expressive vibrato is just warm enough, the melodies are exquisitely but undemonstratively shaped, and rubato is used sparingly and to great effect.
In the slow movement of no.3, Kavakos produces melodic playing of masterly simplicity.
Throughout the set, Kavakos’s lyrical gifts hold attention...
In the hands of Kavakos and the superb Enrico Pace, the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata is a complex mix of fierce energy and tenderness.
After hearing all ten, what stays in the mind, for all the colour and drama, is something gentle and captivating.”
Tim Homfray, Strad, March 2013
“In their beautifully balanced survey of Beethoven's Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Kavakos and Pace allow us to eavesdrop on 10 intimate conversations between musical equals.
Each work has been thoroughly investigated, from Pace's unruffled response to the rough humour of the three Opus 12 sonatas, to Kavakos's subtle intensification of tone in the A major Sonata and the exquisite simplicity of the opening arpeggio figures of the very last Sonata in G major.”
Anna Picard, Independent, five stars, February 2013
“Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace strike the perfect balance between gruff seriousness and sweet lyricism…
Experiencing Kavakos’s lithe phrasing is also a timely reminder as to just how far Beethoven interpretation has travelled in just a few decades.
Kavakos combines the best of the old and the new, conveying the iron will of the music’s creator while taking nothing for granted.
It crowns one of the finest sonata cycles in recent years, enhanced by Decca’s refulgent engineering.”
Julian Haylock, SinfiniMusic, five stars, February 2013
“It is simply breath-taking, the way in which Kavakos gets straight to the point with a dry, almost defiant and yet sensitively balanced tone; not shying away from the drama, whilst still shaping the piece with confidence and boldness. He stays well clear of virtuoso affectedness and showmanship, whilst still performing in a unique manner which reveals the inspiration for Leo Tolstoi’s deeply philosophical and ethical response to the piece. Even the less spectacular pieces, such as Op.12/2, are most enjoyable, Kavakos’ delicate playing brings out every nuance. This recording is a delight.”
Werner Theurich, Der Spiegel, January 2013
Camerata Salzburg; Enrico Pace (piano); Patrick Demenga (cello) / MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E minor; Piano Trios Nos.1 & 2
“…a magisterial demonstration, not only of Mendelssohn as virtuoso, but also as lyricist of deeply emotional cast …”
BBC Music Magazine, November 2009
“This is the first release in Mendelssohn year to have come my way that truly adds to the festivities. Kavakos offers a compelling, unsugary reading of the Concerto (where, for a change, you sense the legacy of Beethoven as much as anyone). But lack of heart-on-sleeve isn’t to suggest in any way a lack of expression: quite the reverse – how Kavakos revels in those moments of introspection, the violin looking down from way, way up in the stratosphere. There’s plenty of fine detail, too, both in the solo part and the orchestra, but there’s always a sense of it arising out of the music; Mutter by comparison sounds very premeditated. The Camerata’s playing is an additional delight, creating an intimate rapport with the soloist.
In lesser hands, Kavakos’s moderate tempo for the slow movement might threaten to drag, but – as Hilary Hahn has previously shown – if the interpretation is sufficiently interesting, it can still convince, even though for my taste the slightly swifter Hope is better still. The finale is less an explosion of exuberance than Hope’s, but Kavakos’s filigree lightness bodes well for the chamber music and the climactic build-up is utterly life-enhancing.
The trios are on a similar level, with Kavakos joined by two superb musicians. It’s striking in the second movement of the D minor Trio that they observe Mendelssohn’s detached markings – unlike many who can’t resist the temptation to swoon here. And the Trio of the same work is a relief after the caution of the Mutter recording, the pianist Enrico Pace almost giving Jonathan Gilad (with Fischer and Muller-Schott) a run for his money.
If there’s less mystery about the C minor’s opening that revealed by Fischer et al, then the slow movement is beautifully poised and the finale justifiably exultant.”
Editor’s Choice, Gramophone, October 2009
“Leonidas Kavakos plays the work with unusual nervous tension, not as a weakness but as a conscious decision as to what can lie in the music. His thin, clear, sweet tone suits this approach and is cleanly recorded so that it balances well with an exceptionally lucid orchestral recording. All the same, there are losses, in that Mendelssohn’s lines here are long, even by his most lyrical standards, and need the kind of broad, relaxed sweep that many of the countless violinists who have recorded the work bring to it. This approach, though, does prepare Kavakos for the sense of pathos he finds in the Andante, in which there is a stronger element of a feature of his phrasing in the opening movement, namely a tendency to over-stress the parts of a long phrase rather than take the line as a whole with inner emphases. This works best in the short Allegretto linking the music to the finale, which is lively and played with firm attack …
These are outstanding performances by all three players, and if issued on their own might well be candidates for being judged Outstanding.
International Record Review, September 2009
“There are over 60 recordings of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in the catalogue, but this version from Greek virtuoso Leonidas Kavakos certainly stands out among them. This is not the drooping, chastely melancholy concerto portrayed by some players like Viktoria Mullova, this is a virile, full-blooded piece. The fleet-footed dance of the finale has fire as well as grace, and the slow movement has numerous tiny inflections of tempo and phrasing which imbue the melody with urgent feeling.
Kavakos also directs his own Camerata Salzburg orchestra, which is alert to his every twist and turn. The concerto is coupled with Mendelssohn’s trios for piano, violin and cello, and if anything these are even more impressive. Pianist Enrico Pace is fabulously fleet-fingered in the scherzos, but again a deeper, weightier Mendelssohn is revealed, beyond salon grace and elfin lightness. The players even managed to make the saccharine slow movement of the First Trio seem genuinely moving.”
Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph, August 2009
“...as both soloist and conductor, Kavakos clearly generates a real rapport with the players. His account of one of the most hackneyed works in the violinist's repertoire achieves the near impossible of sounding fresh and original - there's an urgency and nervous energy about Kavakos's playing that's vividly communicated to the orchestra.”
Andrew Clements, Guardian, August 2009
“The quality fibre of this serious artist is immediately on show in his violin’s opening statement, with its finely spun tone and scrupulously enunciated rhythms. He keeps his interpretation fresh and personal as Mendelssohn leads him from turbulent passion through liquid song to the finale’s delicate sparkle. The orchestra is a good partner, too.
Deluged with performances in this centenary year, I was beginning to think I never wanted to hear the work again. Kavakos’s interpretation showed me I was wrong.”
Geoff Brown, Times, July 2009
“Leonidas Kavakos plays the opening movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with restraint and intelligent musicality, cultivating purity of line and a wide expressive range… He is sentimental but never cloying in the Andante, playing its conclusion with striking freedom, and he skirts the danger with thrilling abandon in the finale.
Kavakos interacts commendably with the orchestra and seems to have power in reserve …
Remaining loyal to Mendelssohn for his couplings, Kavakos shows that he is equally at home in the chamber sphere. His partnership with pianist Enrico Pace and cellist Patrick Demenga spawns expressive, technically accomplished and passionately committed readings of the composer’s two piano trios. These players capture the mood contrasts of the outer movements, the lyricism of the andantes and the lightness of the scherzos with skill and artistry. The recording is exemplary.”
Robin Stowell, Strad, June 2009
Camerata Salzburg / MOZART: Violin Concertos [Sony 82876842412]
“…Kavakos reveals himself a lucid, urbane Mozartian, lithe and sweet of tone and minutely attentive to the composer's articulation markings. In the main theme of No 5's Adagio, for instance, he slightly separates each group of paired quavers as Mozart indicates, where most players favour a more-or-less seamless legato. This is a particularly lovely performance, with naturally expressive touches of rubato and a sensitive awareness of the darkened, shifting harmonies at the centre of the movement. A deciding factor for some will be the bonus of the late E flat Symphony: a strongly characterised, finely played performance (with some notably dulcet clarinet playing) ...”
Richard Wigmore, Gramophone, November 2006
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