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Leonidas Kavakos: "Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Concerto for Violin & Orchestra op. 64/Piano Trio No. 1 & 2"

img  Tobias

Not all that's well ends well. In July, Leonidas Kavakos resigned from his position as Artistic Director of the Camerata Salzburg. Constant changes in the Camerata's management had already severely disrupted the ensemble's day-to-day work for some time. When the musicians finally registered a vote of no confidence, Kavakos decided enough was enough. His departure seals a professional and artistic relationship which had greatly benefited both sides. For a full six years, the Greek virtuoso had acted as the group's principal Violinist and had only been promoted to the top slot in 2007. The combined force of  their ambitions ensured them a recording contract with Sony Classical and enriched the musical world with a unique and distinct voice. Disregarding possible unpublished material in the label's vaults, then, this double CD might well be the final document of their interaction.

Even though the sky was still blue at the time of this recording, the album almost prophetically focuses on both of Kavakos' strengths, as if to preserve them ahead of the disintegration: His contageous courage as a live performer and his meticulous attention to detail as a studio musician. Disc one features a concert registration of Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Violin Concerto at the University of Salzburg, while disc two, comprising the first two Piano Trios of the composer, was sculpted over the course of four intense days at the Megaron Recording Centre of the Athens Concert Hall. With the former clocking in at a mere 28 minutes and the latter at 56, the overall duration barely justifies spreading out the material over two CDs from the angle of objectivity. In terms of adequately presenting these two aspects of Kavakos' talents, however, it seems almost mandatory. It is a harmonious musical choice as well, highlighting both Mendelssohn's effortless command of the orchestra as well as his imaginative direction of small-scale constellations.

In both cases, Kavakos makes a point of diving in deep with his interpretation, while always leaving enough headspace to actively engage listeners with his performance. Under his direction, the Violin Concerto turns into a piece  dealing with „big issues“ on an intimate level. He is neither interested in larger-than-life phenomena nor in abstractions, always researching the most fundamental psychology of the heart instead. It is an approach which returns an all but frozen classic into the realm of the immediately palpable and allows for a fresh appreciation of its qualities and topics: Triumph and disaster, love and hopelessness, death and resurrection, romance and the impenetrable cold of rejection. The live character of the recording is clearly apparent, not always doing justice to the timbral brilliance of the orchestra and reducing its nuances to a slightly muffled palette. But at the same time, it reinforces the notion of the Concerto as a work about failing and rising up again – when the joyful last movement kicks in, both the musicians and the audience have undergone an intense journey which could have derailed at any given moment but miraculously never does.

In the Trios, a lot of what could be said about the iconic Violin Concerto hold true as well. Supported by congenial partners Patrick Demenga on Cello and Pianist Enrico Pace, Kavakos again opts for a natural touch and eschews any notion of clinical cleanness. Even more, however, balancing melodic finesse, ingenious ensemble play and textural details attain seminal importance. Every single movement holds a thematic splendour second to none, however never satisfied with just sounding pretty. Again and again, the performers seem to hold their breath, savouring the moment and entering passages of dreamy time suspension, when all motivic strands subminate into prismatic frequencies and linear development folds in on itself. Colour, just as much as precision is vital here, with Pace's contributions ranging from velvety dabbers to cubistically collapsing outbursts and Demenga adding bittersweet afterthoughts.

Thanks to the fluency and flow of the interaction, Kavakos, Demenga and Pace are taking these pieces to a level, where they almost sound like improvisations in constant flux. There is an air of mystery hanging over them, a sense that not every dilemma can be resolved no matter how often one turns things over in one's mind. As such, they represent an apt metaphor for Leonidas Kavakos' current situation, somewhere between a glorious past and an as yet undefined but certainly promising future. While he has pledged to uphold his commitments with the Camerata Salzburg, the chapter now appears firmly closed, opening the search for suitable orchestral partnes. On the other hand, his chambermusical alliance on this disc proves that, at least for the moment, there are plenty of alternative options to persue. Even bad endings can have their blessings, it would seem.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Sony Classical Recordings

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