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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Duo Concertant (1932)
Suite Italienne (1933)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita No.1 in B minor (BWV 1002)
Sonata No.1 in G minor (BWV 1001)
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
Péter Nagy (piano) (Stravinsky)
Rec. Radio Studio DRS, Zurich, October 2002
ECM NEW SERIES ECM 1885 [75’00"]


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.

Stravinsky’s Suite 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 advocates.

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.


Evan Dickerson

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