Review: Kavakos, Pace and Beethoven

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 10:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 10:50am

Kavakos, Pace and Beethoven
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall Reviewed: March 13

Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos (right) was in recital at this splendid Hong Kong Arts Festival event with his preferred accompanist, the Italian pianist Enrico Pace.

The duo made an award-winning recording of Beethoven's 10 violin sonatas last year, which no doubt accounted for their flawless unanimity throughout the three sonatas chosen for this programme: Nos 1, 5 and 9.

When Beethoven turned out his first sonata in 1799, it was usual for the piano to lead and the violin to be an adornment. This wasn't the way Kavakos and Pace presented the work, and the violin's rich tone shunned the retiring role presumably intended for it. But the musicality was so engaging that no one minded.

Silken scales, delicate inflections, modest dynamic shading and some courteous give-and-take cast the work perfectly in its classical mould, with the performers underscoring the flashes of Beethoven's later temperament in the finale.

Sonata No 5, Spring lies midway between this classic elegance and the tempestuousness of Sonata No 9, Kreutzer. The first two movements were performed with a broader overview to match Beethoven's extended lines of structure and melody.

The third movement's 60-second scherzo blipped with some ragged articulation, while the finale was sedate.

The Kreutzer sonata was given a monumental account equal to its concerto-like virtuosity. After a mesmerising slow introduction, the opening movement's flighty drama was played to the full, bouncing between extremes with force and abruptness.

This melted into the second movement's theme and variations, memorable for Kavakos' silvery high register and some beautifully pointed ornamentation from both instruments.

The gutsy finale romped home with the bounce of an intoxicated couple dancing on hot coals. The audience was treated to four encores, including a fruity rendition of Kreisler's Caprice Viennois and an arrangement of the Danse Russe from Stravinsky's Petrushka that came with lashings of fireworks and pots of panache. Tremendous stuff.

Sam Olluver