Leonidas Kavakos/Denes Varjon, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Though still in his thirties, the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos seems to have acquired an international following as a musicians' musician.

Though still in his thirties, the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos seems to have acquired an international following as a musicians' musician. Technically, there is almost nothing he cannot execute on his Stradivarius with dazzling accuracy and ease. But his playing also has its own thoughtfulness, resonance and authority, even on the rare occasions - as at the opening of this Wigmore Hall recital - when he miscalculates.

It is one thing to play Bach's violin music in thinly incisive, almost vibratoless baroque period style when accompanied by harpsichord; another to try to combine the baroque sound with the thicker, heavier tones of a modern Steinway. Even played accurately, the violin cannot avoid sounding slightly off pitch. For all the intensity with which Kavakos and his accompanist, Denes Varjon, tackled the florid opening arioso of Bach's Violin Sonata No 3 in E, BWV 1016, their reading was tinged with discomfort.

Yet from the moment the pair plunged into the Mendelssohnian torrent of Schumann's Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor, Op 105, with Kavakos breasting the pianistic waves in long, vibrant phrases, all went wonderfully well. The intermezzo-like second movement brought a particularly felicitous unanimity of response to its many capricious mood changes. And Kavakos's gutsier timbres perfectly matched the richly folkloristic contents of Bartok's Rhapsody No 1 (1928).

But even his vast dynamic range and command of colour were stretched to the limit in one of the 20th century's most extraordinary violin sonatas. But then, its composer, the Romanian master George Enescu (1881-1955), was one of the century's most extraordinary musicians. His Violin Sonata No 3 in A minor, Op 25 (1926), sounds like nothing so much as a spontaneous, intricate, yet miraculously coherent, half-hour folk-improvisation, complete with gypsy glissandi and even carefully prescribed quartertone gradations. Already in the opening movement, the violinist is required to spin modal melodies of enormous span, loaded with decorative nuances - to which Kavakos brought the subtlest inflections of his own. Meanwhile, the pianist often seems rhythmically independent, in the manner of an Eastern European cimbalom.

Yet it was the blanched tone and rapt stillness with which Kavakos gradually unfolded the central movement's opening meditation over the barest of monotonal piano accompaniments that transfixed the audience, while Denes revealed his full technical scope towards the surging and pounding climax of the more dance-like third movement - with Kavakos rising brilliantly to every split-second technical demand of its crazy inventiveness. After this tumultuous finale, tumultuously received, the pair opted for the gentlest encore: Ravel's rarely heard Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré (1922).

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