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Schubert, Janácek & Bartók Violin Sonatas

Schubert Sonata D.574
Janacek Sonata

Bartok Sonata No.1
Kreisler "La Gitana"
Brahmsviolin sonata
No 3 (slow movement)

Leonidas Kavakos & Péter Nagy

Wigmore Hall, London, 12 December 2008

Once again a chamber music recital filled Wigmore Hall. But for this particular programme to have achieved that is cause for celebration, especially as the rarely played Bartok's 1st sonata of 1921 was received with roaring acclamation, indicating that it is no longer necessary for visiting groups to "play safe" with standard canonic fare (e.g. Norway's Grieg Trio could surely have blled a work by one of their contemporary countrymen for when they come again in February?).

Schubert's fifth and most substantial sonata took a little time to settle, and it was good that the duo took the first repeat. Kavakos' tone was not as mellifluous as one hopes for its unique beginning (the recording by Kreisler and Rachmaninoff has long been a reference standard for it) and one wondered whether the well equipped player was using his Stradivarius or his Guadagnini !

The Janacek was given with complete authority, as if they "owned" it; a characteristic work of continual inventiveness and passion. Both players seized it and it left us with a frisson to contemplate during the interval.

Few of this audience are likely to have been familiar with this extraordinary elusive Bartok work, which is far more demanding than anything else of his for violin. The piano part is exuberant in its sonorities. With the lid thrust open Nagy made no concessions towards his partner, whose rich and powerful tone was more than a match for his. It is perhaps the most extreme of alll the composer's works, highly dissonant and unpredictable in its progress, with the two instruments largely going their own ways with different materials. It has long been a favourite of mine since acquiring Kremer's recording, and I find now that there have been several others since, Tetzlaff and Andsnes' highly regarded.

The audience was vociferous in insisting upon encores; both were pieces you knew but maybe couldn't quite put names to them. They were quiet meditative choices, given with rapt concentration and rich tone, especially on the G string, and were ideal calming offerings to send us out into the wintry weather.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For a detailed movement-by-movement analysis of this recital, see Classical Source