True virtuoso fiddle-playing!

Kavakos – Virtuoso” = STRAVINSKY: Danse russe; Chanson russe; SARASATE: Caprice basque; Romanza andaluza; TARREGA: Recuerdos de la Alhambra; FALLA: Danza del molinera; PAGANINI: Introduction and Variations on “Nel cor piu non mi sento”; Variations on “God Save the King”; WIENIAWSKI: Caprice-valse; R. STRAUSS: Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier (arr. Prihoda); DOHNANYI: Gypsy Andante; BRITTEN: Reveille; ELGAR: La Capricieuse; TCHAIKOVSKY: Valse sentimentale; DVORAK: Humoresque – Leonidas Kavakos, v./ Enrico Pace, p. – Decca 478 9377, 78:47 (5/8/16) [Distr. by Universal] ****: 

Recorded in Athens 28-31 May 2015, this program celebrates the bravura art of the virtuoso encore in the European tradition, an art that several contemporary instrumentalists – especially Leonidas Kavakos – have decided to reinvigorate. Kavakos plays the Abergavenny Stradivarius of 1724, an instrument quite capable of projecting a vivid, piercing range of tone, including the fearsome four-note chords that transform a piece like the opening Danse russe of Stravinsky into a ‘symphonic’ experience. If Kavakos’ passionate gypsy-classical style approaches that of any of the old masters, it is likely Huberman.

The two Paganini works demand left-hand pizzicato, three- and four-note chords, tremolo, staccato, ricochet bowing, duets between melody and left-hand pizzicato accompaniment. Considerable hazards abound, and Kavakos navigates these waters with consummate ease and musicality. The first Paganini set derives fom an aria by Paisiello (as arranged by Zino Francescatti), the second was composed in Vienna in 1828 to be used as a calling-card for Paganini’s British concerts. The Sarasate (zortzico) selections will certainly remind avid lovers of great and lyrical violin playing of the late Ruggiero Ricci, since Kavakos enjoys the same innate sympathy for these compressed folk dances. Ricci himself transcribed from guitar tablature the Tarrega tremolo study Recuerdos de la Alhambra of 1896.

Admittedly, the rarity of this recital lies in the 1937 Reveille of Benjamin Britten, composed for Spanish violinist Antonio Brosa. This “wake-up call” means to parody Brosa’s reluctance to meet the day’s trials and activities. In modal harmony at first, the piece uses glissandi and harmonics to suggest some sleepy eyes in their first encounter with daylight. Fully awake, the etude offers some daunting work in double stops, alternate pizzicato and arco passages, and thin and wiry figures on the E string. After the Britten, the Elgar entry appears entirely ingenuous, despite its interest in staccato technique. Elgar’s “salon” spirit has its kindred in Dohnanyi’s 1924 Gypsy Andante from Ruralia hungarica, in which Kavakos’ warm enchantment enjoys an equally lulling series of figurations from pianist Pace. More ambitious for Kavakos, the dance sequences from the Richard Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier – as arranged by Vasa Prihoda – capture the salacious daydream of Baron Ochs as he speculates on a tryst with the disguised Octavian. Certainly, the rich tone of Kavakos’ violin adds to the old-world charm of the sequence. The ubiquitous Humoresque of Antonin Dvorak – in the Kreisler arrangement – has Kavakos open very slowly, savoring its drooping, home-spun sentiment.  Whether Kavakos’ tender treatment will send you off to screen John Garfield and Joan Crawford remains a question I leave to your relationship with TCM.

—Gary Lemco