Dmitri Shostakovich was finishing the finale of his Violin Concerto No 1 when the Stalinists declared war on him and his music, whose ‘formalist perversions’ and ‘anti-democratic tendencies’ represented everything they wanted to eradicate; he lost his teaching job, and for the following five years presented only the blandest musical fare.
When finally performed by its dedicatee David Oistrakh, the concerto did indeed reveal itself as anti-democratic, but in the sense that only the most brilliant virtuosos could dream of playing it.
Such a creature is the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, but even he spent many years in preparation before risking his interpretation in public, as each of its four movements requires mastery of a different sound-world.
In the opening Nocturne the simplicity of his line was accentuated by the purity of his tone, and over a gently undulating orchestral accompaniment he distilled an intensely inward poetry.
In the Scherzo, with which Shostakovich gleefully destroyed the edifice he had just built, Kavakos and conductor Gianandrea Noseda whipped up a demonic storm. And if Kavakos’s way with the Passacaglia – in which the solo line moves from desperate eloquence to a kind of serenity – was masterly, what he did with his long cadenza even took the LSO leader’s breath away – and he too is no slouch as a virtuoso.
The rest of this outstanding concert consisted of Liszt’s Faust Symphony, inspiringly played.
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