tue 28/05/2024

Leonidas Kavakos, Camerata Salzburg, QEH | reviews, news & interviews

Leonidas Kavakos, Camerata Salzburg, QEH

Leonidas Kavakos, Camerata Salzburg, QEH

Violinist passes conducting test with flying colours

The Camerata Salzburg of the 18th century: a chamber orchestra at work and play

There are many ways of being orchestral. About as many ways, in fact, as there are of organising the body politic. At one extreme there are the fascist orchestral states with their Kim Il-sung-emulating conductor-tyrants (Fritz Reiner's Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for example). At the other you have the right-on, conductorless cooperatives of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

The Camerata Salzburg takes up an Enlightenment middle way, fostering gentlemanly camaraderie and a rotating leadership of the wise. Last night, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it was the turn of the Greek violinist-cum-conductor, Leonidas Kavakos, to have a go at the coffee house approach.

The programme didn’t sound much on paper: Mozart’s Linz Symphony in C, Bach's Harpsichord Concerto, BWV1052, transcribed for the violin, and Witold Lutoslawski’sMusique funèbre. Yet, in fact, it proved to be the perfect musical wardrobe for this fine orchestral body. Good for Kavakos, too. His incipient conducting career (this was the first time I had seen him on the podium) seemed impressive. He moves well and naturally. His directions are clear and pertinent. Perhaps there was a technocratic tendency, a micromanaging tick, that needed to be calmed; he fussed over the Andante of the Mozart symphony too much.

But better that than the reverse. The eye for detail was a boon in the Lutoslawski, which, I imagine, in less keen hands could have come across as just another slice of East European miserablism. As it was, the piece careening engagingly one way and another, the strings teaming up thuggishly one moment then divorcing into polyphonous probing the next. In the second part a polite tiptoeing gives way to a kaleidoscopic explosion, as if a child had been left to his devices in a well-stocked kitchen.

After this, one might have expected a bit more dazzle from Kavakos’s Bach. Instead we got a simple and solid performance from the pair. Perhaps, Kavakos was feeling the heat in trying to keep this perpetuum mobile on course while navigating his pinballing violin lines. Whatever the case, a much more relaxed Kavakos emerged in his windy Bach encore, a beautiful rendition of the Sarabande from the Second Partita for solo violin.

When Kavakos returned from the interval to conduct the Mozart symphony his conviviality remained. The Linz Symphony is yet another example of the genius of the adult Mozart. He wrote the sunny work in five days after a miserable family reunion. Energy and colour courses through the work. Kavakos allowed and encouraged the darting thematic and rhythmic charges to push through the orchestra from the double basses up like an emboldened mob in the Allegro spiritoso and seemed to make a noticeable virtue of the dark coloration in the coda of that same movement.

The similarly Schubert-like timbral shift in the development section of the Andante was emphasised too, while the Menuetto was stimulated into hearty, long-legged, goose-stepping musical cheer. That the young orchestra could deal with colour, ensemble, balance and dynamic was clear. There was just one last test for Kavakos. Structure. Could he shape over time? As I pondered this thought, the exhilarating airborne last movement that had been darting through clouds and squalls suddenly delivered a final perfectly judged kick of the heels. A-plus, Mr Kavakos.

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