Thursday, 5 September 2013


Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Tuesday (3 September 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 September 2013 with the title "Pick of the crop".

This violin and piano recital would not have taken in Singapore some 35 years ago, not just because the Conservatory did not exist in those days or the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in its infancy did not attract top soloists like it does today, but because celebrated Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos would have been turned away at the airport. Sporting shoulder length hair and designer stubble, he appeared more like a rock star than one of classical music’s greatest violinists.

Looks aside, his recital with Italian pianist Enrico Pace attracted a large audience at the Conservatory to witness chamber music at its finest. The somewhat unusual programme began conventionally enough with Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor (Op.30 No.2).

Pace’s piano opened all its four movements, statements that coloured the complexion of this dramatic work. His clarity was a revelation, as was his blending in with Kavakos’s solo lines. This was not merely accompaniment but a partnership of equals, and not for nothing did Beethoven conceived his sonatas “for piano with violin”.

The outer movements were urgent and emphatic, with undertones of great pathos. Their trenchant delivery was contrasted with the flowing lyricism of the slow movement and the scherzo’s playful staccato passages. The duo’s rendition sung, sobbed, commiserated and then raged with a burning intensity.

The French impressionist composers contributed the recital’s two centrepieces. The late Sonata in G minor by Debussy had intimate moments which were handled with much subtlety, and a mercurial central movement that joked and jibed like the characters from commedia dell’arte. The early single-movement Sonate Posthume by Ravel, not to be confused with the bluesy later Sonata in G major, began with sparseness from Kavakos’s violin but soon blossomed into a full-throated vibrato.

The Italian composer Respighi’s Sonata in B minor has been championed by Jascha Heifetz and Kyung-Wha Chung among others, but is rarely heard here. Its sheer opulence in instrumental colours and textures were fully realised by Kavakos and Pace. The dark first movement brooded but intermittently admitted rays of sunshine. The voluptuous slow movement, a fount of poetry itself, rose to an impassioned Straussian climax.

More Germanic than Italianate, the Brahmsian finale was a rugged Passacaglia that packed every possible emotion in its succession of peaks and troughs. It was a sturdy but exciting ride from the duo which ensured that its emphatic close was greeted with a chorus of cheers. More were to come with the two encores, Stravinsky’s lusty Russian Dance from Petrushka (arranged by Samuel Dushkin) and the lovely slow movement of Schumann’s First Violin Sonata.

This has been a marquee year for chamber music in Singapore, and this excellent recital must easily be the finest pick of the crop.

Man talk: Leonidas Kavakos in conversation with Albert Tiu
(probably comparing facial hair) wiith YST Head of Strings
Qian Zhou coyly 
(and enviously) looking on .

Enrico Pace shares a joke with YST Head Bernard Lanskey
("My beard's heaps neater than yours!")

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