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Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace deliver a soaring recital at Bass Performance Hall

03.31.09
Leonidas Kavakos
Dallas Morning News

FORT WORTH-When the time comes to pick the year's top 10 classical performances, don't, for heaven's sake, let me forget Monday evening's recital by violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Enrico Pace. In fact, their performance of the slow movement of Richard Strauss' Sonata for their two instruments will be hard to beat as the year's most magical eight minutes of music-making. Period.

Presented in the Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Performance Hall, the recital had but three works. But they could hardly have been more different, and each was very differently approached by the Greek violinist (a prizewinner in several major competitions) and Italian pianist. This was a welcome change from the one-size-fits-all approach of too many instrumentalists.

Beethoven's early E-flat major Sonata (Op. 12, No. 3) was served up with a delicacy appropriate to music conceived for instruments far quieter than our own. (This was before the age of steel-strung fiddles and steel-framed pianos.) Fortissimos sounded like early 19th-century, not 20th-century, fortissimos. The performance was as buoyant and deftly inflected as a suave, witty conversation.

The silken sweetness of Kavakos' 1692 Stradivarius was beyond beautiful. And, as was the norm until the 20th century, Kavakos used vibrato - a relatively close, subtle vibrato - only on long notes. Vibrato today is too often a mindless attachment to string playing. Here, it was a genuine expressive device.

The Shostakovich Violin Sonata that followed sounded very different: finely focused, its intensity closely managed, explosive when called for.

Kavakos and Pace made the most of the first movement's spectral, spidery explorations. The central Allegretto was a gruff, earthy dance, with a rising pitch of desperation. Violin and piano had a solo variation apiece in the finale's unsettling passacaglia.

After intermission came the Strauss, late romanticism in fullest, most fragrant bloom. It's hard to imagine a performance more lovingly realizing both the grand pronouncements and the sweet nothings.

The slow movement is called "Improvisation," and so it seemed in a deliciously stretched and caressed account. In the violin's very first phrase, a mere three-note pickup motif could take the breath away. Again and again, we were made to beg for pivotal downbeats.

One complaint, though: May we please have just enough light to read the movement markings in the program?