Kavakos and Beethoven, perfect together

Leonidas Kavakos
Philadelphia Inquirer

By Peter Dobrin

Leonidas Kavakos is a marvel of exactitude. There's a Leonardo da Vinci-like quality to his playing, as if you could plot mathematically how every micro move accounts for his elegance and efficiency. In this extraordinary violinist, artist and master technician coexist in polished communion.

If a listener Tuesday night had to strain a bit to hear that which is human, it was understandable. In his Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital at the Kimmel Center of four Beethoven sonatas, Kavakos was sometimes a cool customer. He is fully capable of being expressive, and he was, in measured ways. But anyone hoping for the full range of drama one can hear in the playing of, say, Pamela Frank or Augustin Dumay - risk-taking, vulnerability, despair - well, that's just not who Kavakos is.

These are pieces just as much for piano as violin (it is Beethoven, after all) and Kavakos was joined by someone considerably more than a mere aide de camp. Enrico Pace raged forth in the opening of the Sonata in C Minor, Opus 30, No. 2, setting an unusually furious tone. The intensity was sustained throughout the movement, which set up a striking contrast to the peace of a loving "Adagio cantabile." The main theme of this movement is all serenity - and then the genius: Over the continuing sweet violin, Beethoven in the middle section sends a minor earthquake through the piano part, which Pace amplified in dramatic fashion. When the piano enters with those seeming non sequiturs, loud major scales that nearly signal the start of a new movement, Pace did so with a brilliance that underlined how emotionally daring a gesture it was.

Peace prevails, of course. Except on this night it did not. Just at those magical closing moments of resolution, a cellphone in the front row erupted, only feet beneath the violinist's nose. Kavakos finished, and then hung his head in the direction of the impertinence, looking enervated.

All was forgiven. Kavakos and Pace rewarded a more welcome audience outburst - cheers - with Kreisler's Caprice Viennois and Schön Rosmarin, both endowed with a saturated sound and flexible expressiveness that more than justified their incursion from the salon realm.