Stravinsky and Bach
– unusual bedfellows you might think,
and particularly in that order. Well,
yes and no. This is after all an ECM
New Series release, where nothing is
run of the mill.
I recently heard Kavakos
interviewed on the subject of violin
tone – very pertinent as the composers
in question here inhabited such different
times and sound worlds. Kavakos was
adamant that tone had to be "true" to
the work at hand, as in his view there
is no single ideal violin tone that
suits all works.
The Duo Concertant
(1932) gets off to an edgy start – as
is should – with Kavakos immediately
showing his willingness to shade and
pare down the violin line as required.
Nagy’s accompaniment is as impressive
for its responsiveness, with the sound
of both instruments set off against
each other well. The relative sparseness
of movements such as Eglogue II and
the Gigue allow some space for the more
pastoral elements to come through. Here,
as elsewhere, Kavakos shows his liking
of the finely spun and fading line,
in contrast to the catchy rhythmic bounce
of brisker movements.
Bach next, the first
partita and not the sonata as you might
expect. The move to solo violin, after
the strong impression made by the Stravinsky
I felt was always going to take playing
and interpretation of a high order.
Having played this disc as programmed,
and also so the sonata follows the Duo
Concertant, there does indeed seem some
logic to the choice made where this
programme is concerned. With emphasis
on sweetness and evenness of tone even
at faster tempi - and on the whole his
tempi are slower than most - this is
an individual reading of the partita,
although a pleasing one.
Italienne, from 1933, derived some of
its thematic material from the ballet
Pulcinella, and therefore has influences
from Pergolesi and others. So strong
is the pre-classical feel of the reading
that it seems at first it is Pergolesi,
and not Stravinsky, who is being brought
into contrast with Bach. Nagy makes
a welcome return to the discourse, with
playing that has a harpsichordal pluckiness
to it. Stravinsky’s voice comes through
though and the playing becomes more
consciously ‘modern’ to suit.
Kavakos’ reading of
the Bach sonata is in the same mould
as the partita. I suspect most record
buyers will have or want one or more
complete sets of the sonatas and partitas.
I listened to Kavakos in comparison
to Enescu, Menuhin, Haendel and Sherban
Lupu – all with their own things to
say, and all confirm the impression
that no one violinist can entirely plumb
the depths of these absorbing works.
Is this the start of
a complete Bach set from Kavakos? If
so, it should be an interesting reading.
But does Kavakos succeed in bringing
off the sonata? Almost – for me the
tempi seem almost too consciously slow
at times. The Fugue – the emotional
climax of the work – is beautiful but
misses some element of otherworldly
mystery that others listed above grasp
to greater effect.
The booklet note is
densely worded and, to my mind, largely
void of meaning in any language, adding
little to the listening experience.
Kavakos and Nagy remain their own strongest
Anyone that sensibly
invested in the excellent pairing of
Enescu and Ravel by these artists will
need no further musical encouragement
to explore this latest ECM disc, depending
largely on whether or not you want this
combination of repertoire.