Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Camerata Salzburg/Kavakos @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

28 November 2009

The theme of sources of musical inspiration lay behind this programme of works directed and played by violinist Leonidas Kavakos.

The Greek virtuoso has recently swapped his bow for the conductor’s baton, and is the subject of the South Bank Centre’s Artist in Focus series.

For two years until September this year he was Artistic Director of the Camerata Salzburg, so it was entirely appropriate for him to return to conduct them in a selection of works that have inspired both him and other composers.

Witold Lutoslawski’s Musique Funbre dates from 1954-58 and is dedicated, somewhat belatedly, to Bartk, who died in 1945. It fully embraces serial compositional techniques, yet retains a grounding in tonality through its constant exploration of the minor second interval. Under Kavakos’s controlled yet compassionate direction, the crack players of the Camerata brought real warmth and a haunting dignity to the work. The first section was strongly reminiscent of the opening movement of Bartk’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, with its rising and falling arc of sound. The Camerata violins and violas were perfectly disciplined when slashing their way through the second section, and brought a mournful but hopeful sense of meaning to the third. The final section ended with the lightest of possible touches from the cellos and violins.

Kavakos took up his bow as soloist in Bach’s Violin Concerto in D minor a work reconstructed from a transcription Bach made for harpsichord and orchestra in the 1730s. Kavakos’ flawless and exuberant performance clearly showed that he knows this work inside out. There were no hesitations in his playing, and not a single sour note, which can so often mar performances by even the most experienced players. During the opening Allegro he showed complete mastery over Bach’s virtuosic trickery, while the gentle Adagio was controlled yet brimming with feeling. Excellent support from the Camerata enabled the listener to fully appreciate the complexity of Bach’s contrapuntal writing in the final movement.

The second half of the concert consisted of one work, Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 in C, the ‘Linz’. Apparently written in huge haste in the Austrian city whilst staying there en route to Vienna in 1783, the symphony is exceptionally joyful. It took a little time for Kavakos and the Camerata to get into the swing of things. After the slow adagio introduction, the ensuing allegro spiritoso remained rather solemn until the pace picked up and moved more briskly along. There were especially bright interjections from the horn, bassoon and oboe, which were followed by skilful and expressive playing from oboist Louise Pellerin and bassoonist Marco Lugaresi in the Trio section of the third movement Minuet. The finale was a resounding romp. Not quite the non-stop presto that Mozart (possibly in jest) specified in the original score, but a more restrained, well-drilled and exceptionally well played conclusion.

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