Kavakos/Lugansky – review

Leonidas Kavakos
The Guardian (UK)

By Tim Ashley

Barbican, London

This concert technically belonged to violinist Leonidas Kavakos's residency with the LSO, though it actually gave the orchestra a night off while he played duets with pianist Nikolai Lugansky. It was a real treat: they're both fantastic players, at once intelligent and intense, and together they form a genuine partnership of equals, with no sense of the piano taking a subordinate or accompanying role.

Some may have had qualms, however, about the ordering of the programme. The duo closed with Respighi's Violin Sonata in B minor, which Kavakos believes to be one of the peaks of the violin repertoire – a claim that doesn't quite hold true. Written during the first world war, it's a post-Romantic piece of grand gestures, which allowed Kavakos to display both his weighty lyricism and the extraordinary fullness of his double stopping. The piano writing, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Rachmaninov, which naturally suited Lugansky down to the ground. But the Sonata is also discursive; despite a strong performance, it seemed faintly anticlimactic after the works that had gone before it.

Janácek's Violin Sonata, with its fragmentation and sense of emotional dislocation, was the unnerving opener. Kavakos and Lugansky achieved something near perfection with Brahms's Violin Sonata No 1 in G major – a beautifully considered, understated performance in which every phrase spoke volumes. Stravinsky's Duo Concertante, meanwhile, was the embodiment of virtuosic neoclassical cool, with Kavakos displaying dexterous refinement. Stravinsky wrote the piano part as a showpiece for himself, and Lugansky dispatched it with tremendous elegance and wit. I wished they had closed with that, rather than the Respighi. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding evening: bliss from start to finish.