BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; 4 Hungarian Dances; BARTOK: Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Piano; Rhapsody No. 2 for Violin and Piano – Leonidas Kavakos, violin/ Peter Nagy, p./Gewandhausorchester/ Riccardo Chailly – Decca B0019121-02, 74:17 [Distr. by Universal] (10/8/13) ****:
It seems rather unusual to find the pairing violin virtuoso Leonidas Kavakos (b. 1967) chooses for his first Decca recording (6-11 May 2013), since the Bartok Rhapsodies usually appear in duo-recital discs or in tandem with his own Second Concerto. Perhaps the gypsy elements in their respective works provides the emotional glue for this concept. That Kavakos plays them in their original guise, with piano, makes the works seem like salon after-thoughts next to the concerto. Kavakos utilizes metronome markings found in Joseph Joachim’s posthumous papers regarding this 1878 Concerto, and Kavakos executes the Joachim cadenza. Chailly establishes a long symphonic line to introduce the double exposition, with Kavakos’ bravura evident out the outset amidst double stops, broken chords, and fluttering trills that mark his entry.
Breadth and lyrical tenderness soon become the dominant epithets for the expansively epic contour of the Allegro non troppo, lavishing grand gestures and stunning pedal points, as required. Some nice work develops between the French horn, Kavakos, and the Gewandhaus tympani. The oboe (Henrik Wahlgren) makes his colors felt in the first movement – as well as in the Adagio – just prior to the violin’s restatement of the lyrical melody over plucked strings in the orchestra. Almost needless to say, Kavakos’ rich tone has a life-long guarantee by way of his “Il Cannone” Guarnerius de Gesu instrument, reputed to have once belonged to Paganini. Kavakos and Chailly milk the extended coda for all its silken drama that quite explodes before the fermata.
Something of the Concerto’s evolution in the Carinthian Alps permeates the folk melody of the lovely Adagio, which oboist Walgren, then Kavakos, French horn, and the first flute weave into a mesmerizing, arioso construct. The lovely pedal point on Kavakos’ open strings warrants our revisiting this ingratiating collaboration. The last movement proceeds (attacca) with hearty gusto a lively Hungarian dance that pays homage both to Joachim’s ethnicity and to the composer’s association early in his career with Eduard Remenyi. The Gewandhaus tympani, along with some startling brass interjections, renders the movement decidedly energized. If grace and almost feline litheness dominate prior movements, an exuberant athleticism becomes the order of the thrilling rondo.
The four Hungarian Dances receive affection and sweet stylization, all in Joachim arrangements. No. 1 in G Minor used to be common fare for Erica Morini. No. 2 in D Minor had Nathan Milstein as its spokesman. No. 6 in B-flat Minor and No. 11 in D Minor would receive visits from Aaron Rosand and Jascha Heifetz. So, Kavakos fiddles in exalted company, and he sells these popular “gypsy” works as well as anyone.
Bartok created his 1928-1929 Rhapsodies for Violin and Piano as personal offerings to fellow Hungarian violinists, Zoltan Szekely and Joseph Szigeti. Both pieces utilize peasant Magyar modal dances as their source, divided into two sections – slow and fast or lassu/friss – while indulging in a kind of bi-tonality that sets up a key (D Minor and G Major) and employing a scale that alters the fifth degree to embark on a Phygian or Lydian mode. The First Rhapsody’s second movement has often been likened to the “Simple Gifts” tune that Copland exploits in his Appalachian Spring. It seems safe to say that Ravel’s virtuosic Tzigane factors into Bartok’s own concept of violin bravura. Kavakos delivers the explosive accents, drone effects, glissandi (in No. 2) and whirlwind filigree with no shortage of dynamic accompaniment from the gifted Peter Nagy, whose playing in the Second Rhapsody proves quite seductive.