Kavakos and Pace deliver alternately fiery and sweetly crisp renditions of virtuoso staples from diverse national styles.
Kavakos: Virtuoso = Works for Violin and Piano by STRAVINSKY; SARASATE; TARREGA; FALLA; PAGANINI; WIENIAWSKI; R. STRAUSS; DOHNANYI; ELGAR; TCHAIKOVSKY; DVORAK [Complete list of compositions below] – Leonidas Kavakos, violin/ Enrico Pace, piano – Decca 478 9377, 78:47 (4/8/16) [Distr. by Universal] ****:
Greek violin virtuoso Leonidas Kavakos (b. 1967) indulges us in his spectacular talent, often tailored to echo much of the bravura we once associated with the late Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012). Sporting his 1724 Abergavenny Stradivarius, Kavakos raises the same gypsy sparks we know from Ricci in the Sarasate pieces, the 1881 Caprice basque and lyrical Romanza andaluza. The former, set in ¾ and 6/8, capitalizes on the Spanish zortzico tradition, often sizzling in explosive gestures. The latter exploits double stops as a means of intensifying its melodic content. Using Ricci’s transcription of the 1896 Tarrega guitar piece, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, the song becomes a study for tremolo bow control.
While Ricci remained typecast as a Paganini specialist, so too Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) could explore the virtuosic side of the violin solo repertory, and his arrangement of Paganini’s 1821 Variations on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” from Paisiello’s L’amor contrastato, ossia La moinara calls for the well-established arsenal of Paganini effects: left-hand pizzicato, multiple-note chords, tremolo, staccato, and ricochet bowing. At the third variant, Kavakos executes a seamless duet for the melody and left-hand pizzicato. Ricci, by the way, toured with this piece for his 1961 Leningrad appearance with pianist Martha Argerich. Paganini penned his solo 1828 Variations on “God Save the King,” Op. 9 in Vienna, although the tune can accommodate various nations. The blazing double stops, jagged staccato entries, registration shifts, pizzicato, and detached bowing hurdles resemble those for Op. 38, the diverse, antiphonal effects and trials for the hands seem Mother’s Milk to Kavakos, who relishes the challenges with a palpable glee.
In Ricci’s case, his collaborator at the keyboard for Sarasate was the master, Brooks Smith, and Kavakos has an equally deft instrumentalist in Enrico Pace, who captures the inflections and colors of the various national styles in good order. The Stravinsky transcriptions remain melodic and relatively subdued, but the Falla and Wieniawski works require as much facility in the keyboard as in the fiery violin part. The so-called Gypsy Andante of Dohnanyi pairs the duo effectively, richly suggestive of the Budapest café and chaste in its means, at once. Czech virtuoso Vasa Prihoda (1900-1960) provides the colorful waltz suite form the Richard Strauss homage to Old Vienna in his Der Rosenkavalier. Kavakos’ high flute tone makes a lovely contrast to this more mellow middle range in double stops. With Pace’s piano in full lilt, the Viennese salon effect will invite comparisons with the best of Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler’s influence makes one appearance, in his famous setting of Dvorak’s popular 1894 piano piece, Humoresque in G-flat, given its “visual” immortality by John Garfield in the movie Humoresque. Kavakos milks the tempo for its home-spun sentiment, the slow tempo’s serving as the selling point.
Kavakos offers two British examples of alternately virtuoso and lyrical writing: the 1937 Reveille of Benjamin Britten – conceived as a mock-tribute in quirky scales and slides to Antonio Brosa and his penchant for late rising in the morning – and Edward Elgar’s 1891 La Capricieuse, a staccato study with a languorous middle section in double stops. The Tchaikovsky haunted offering, Valse sentimentale from his 1892 Six Pieces for Piano, had been popularized in transcription by the likes of Elman and Piatagorsky.
STRAVINSKY: Danse russe (arr. Dushkin); Chanson russe from Mavra (arr. Dushkin)
SARASATE: Caprice basque, Op. 24; Romanza andaluza, OP. 22
TARREGA: Recuerdos de la Alhambra (trans. Ricci)
FALLA: Danza del molinero (trans. Szigeti)
PAGANINI: Introduction and Variations on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” after Paisiello, Op. 38; Variations on “God Save the King,” Op. 9
WIENIAWSKI: Capriccio-valse, Op. 7
R. STRAUSS: Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier (arr. Prihoda)
DOHNANYI: Andante alla zingaresca, Op. 32c
ELGAR: La Capricieuse, Op. 17
TCHAIKOVSKY: Valse sentimentale, OP. 51, No. 6
DVORAK: Humoresque in G-flat Major, Op. 101, No. 7
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