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Leonidas Kavakos

  • Conductor
  • Violinist


Leonidas Kavakos press reviews


BBC Proms / Korngold Violin Concerto
Deutsches Sinfonie-orchester Berlin cond. Ingo Metzmacher
“The Korngold, with Leonidas Kavakos the ecstatic soloist, was pitched just the right side of sentimentality. As an encore, Kavakos played a violin transcription of Francisco Tárrega's guitar piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra, its delicate virtuosity leaving everyone open-mouthed.”
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 5 stars, August 2010

“Kavakos played like a dream eliciting an almost physical pleasure from the trueness of his intonation and the way in which certain phrases, certain chords landed. He and Metzmacher were a wonderfully knowing and instinctive partnership and it’s amazing how their good taste made the piece sound greater as a result.

The slow movement was about as good as it gets, the chromatic insinuations almost indecently beautiful. The resolution of the harmony on the very last chord was as good an example as I’ve heard in ages of how sexily dissonance can beget consonance.”
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, August 2010

“…I defy anyone who heard Leonidas Kavakos’s transportive performance to call Korngold’s concerto syrupy… his poise and breathtaking control delivered maximum effect without needing to pour on the sugar. With Metzmacher the eager accomplice, the whole thing unspooled with rapt delicacy.”
Neil Fisher, The Times, August 2010

“Leonidas Kavakos brought lyrical ardour and effortless virtuosity to the solo part.”
Barry Millington, Evening Standard, August 2010

New York Philharmonic with Valery Gergiev / Stravinsky Violin Concerto
“Kavakos brought to Stravinsky’s continuously active, asymmetric rhythms a sense of line and a stringing articulation, which were a joy to hear. The audience responded heartily and as an encore he offered the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita No.2.”
The Strad, July 2010

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Ingo Metzmacher / Beethoven Violin Concerto
“Beethoven’s violin concerto was treated to a radical interpretation. Violinist Leonidas Kavakos slowed down the tempi, and examined the piece as if under a microscope. It was his idea to have the initial timpani solo played with bare hands rather than sticks. Avoiding any sharp-edged phrasing, the lush formation of the orchestra created a traditional Beethoven sound, yet Kavakos’ crystal-clear, lyrical tone ensured that the performance was far from consumerist easy-listening… its warm tone, at times pared down to the thinnest thread, was perfectly matched to the innermost feelings of the music.”
Berliner Zeitung, March 2010

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with Zubin Mehta, Berlin
“…The Greek virtuoso violinist Leonidas Kavakos created what was quite possibly the most beautiful violin tone imaginable. Especially in the piano phrases, his tone shimmered like white gold. Kavakos’ interpretation of the Beethoven concerto demonstrated the close ties between Classical composition and the realm of Romanticism. He seemed to be lost in a daydream rather than consciously performing, a virtuoso whose world had become a dream: in love with his own sound, narcissistic yet at the same time loved by the audience…“
Der Tagesspiegel, December 2009

"…The evening ended with Beethoven’s violin concerto, a guaranteed success in any programme. It was performed by the imposing Leonidas Kavakos on a Stradivarius, dwarfed by his hands, with a wonderful tone and ecstatic pianissimi, sounding as out of this world as a love poem should. Even if the audience had wanted more virtuoso fireworks at the beginning, they were amply compensated by Fritz Kreisler’s unsurpassed cadenzas, delivered by Kavakos in an unbeatable, masterly style“
Berliner Morgenpost, December 2009

Artist in Focus series / Southbank Centre, London / 25 November to 1 December 2009

Trios with Gautier Capuçon, Nikolai Luganski and Antoine Tamestit / Tchaikovsky, Schnittke & Shchedrin
“From the moment that Capuçon launched into the elegiac opening melody [of Tchaikovsky's A minor Piano Trio] – with breathtaking presence, and Kavakos responding with equal vehemence – the larger-than-life character of the performance was assured.

The playing of all three was fabulously assured…wonderfully communicative."
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, December 2009

“Quite simply one of those rare performances that make you forget you are there to write an objective appraisal. Stonking.”
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, December 2009

Recital with Nicholas Angelich / Bach, Schumann, Bartok & Enescu
“There are times when Leonidas Kavakos… does not seem quite human. Surely, no flesh-and-blood violinist can centre his fingers on the strings so steadily, with no hint of a wobble. Surely it’s beyond our ken to scale down the volume to a ghostly whisper and yet produce sounds with colour and character. Or be able to dispatch Bach’s big solo chaconne as casually as you might comb your hair, with no sweat on the brow… the Greek violinist caused jaws to drop with his extreme subtlety and near-impossible technical sheen.”
Geoff Brown, The Times, December 2009

“Technically, Leonidas Kavakos showed himself to be one of the finest violinists in the world today, in terms of intonation, phrasing, chording, gradations of dynamics and a command of the varied musical structures running through this programme.

Kavakos raised it [Schumann Second Violin Sonata] to the level of a neglected masterpiece. This was a reading of the finest quality, the interpretative gifts of this artist proving once and for all that the received opinion regarding Schumann’s late works is at times downright wrong.

Kavakos and his partner were beyond praise or criticism: theirs was a great performance of a wonderful and original masterpiece.”
Classical Source, November, 2009

Camerata Salzburg / Bach, Lutaslowski & Mozart
“His incipient conducting career (this was the first time I had seen him on the podium) seemed impressive. He moves well and naturally. His directions are clear and pertinent.

Kavakos allowed and encouraged the darting thematic and rhythmic charges to push through the orchestra from the double basses up like an emboldened mob in the Allegro spiritoso [Mozart ‘Linz’ Symphony] and seemed to make a noticeable virtue of the dark coloration in the coda of that same movement.

That the young orchestra could deal with colour, ensemble, balance and dynamic was clear. There was just one last test for Kavakos. Structure. Could he shape over time? As I pondered this thought, the exhilarating airborne last movement that had been darting through clouds and squalls suddenly delivered a final perfectly judged kick of the heels. A-plus, Mr Kavakos.”
Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Arts Desk, November 2009

London Philharmonic Orchestra with Vladimir Jurowski / Berg Violin Concerto
“Kavakos's violin-playing has always been astoundingly virtuosic and blazingly insightful… if his ideas inspire his playing, I'm happy to admit Kavakos to the pantheon of musician-philosophers."
Tom Service, The Guardian, November 2009

“Leonidas Kavakos [was] at one with the orchestra in the Allegro's intricate accompanied cadenza… The closing Adagio was finely paced, its Bach allusions pointedly but never too insistently brought out.”
Classical Source, November, 2009

Recital with Péter Nagy, Kimmel Centre, Philadelphia, USA
"In violinist terms, his hands ought to be insured for millions - they're priceless. But the mind behind it all played Bach's unaccompanied "Chaconne" from the Partita in D minor with such keen structural perception that each microsection emerged with its own subtle character and particular brand of rhythmic continuity. And though the piece - a monument in the violin literature - is usually positioned as a concert climax, he started his Philadelphia Chamber Music Society program at this high peak without any danger of the rest being a letdown.

Kavakos' Greekness felt evident in Violin Sonata No. 3, Op. 25 by George Enescu - a feast of color and theatrical gestures in music for any accomplished violinist. But with Kavakos, it became a complete, mesmerizing sound world that perhaps even the composer (a great violinist whose few recordings include Schumann's Op. 121) couldn't have put across to this consummate degree."
The Philadelphia Enquirer, October 2009

Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Gerard Schwarz, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, USA
"Kavakos ranks among the greatest instrumentalists of our time. Equipped with a formidable technique, the charismatic Greek drew from his 1782 Guadagnini violin a tone at once pure, warm and voluminous, seeming to sail effortlessly through the richest orchestral textures... While throwing off the virtuoso passage work with thrilling brilliance, he yet fully realized all the elegance and nobility he has said he finds in the piece."
The Seattle Times, October 2009

London Symphony Orchestra / Gergiev, The Barbican, London
"Leonidas Kavakos had the full measure of these contrasting and shifting perspectives, the faster, fiercer passages effortlessly negotiated, the third movement delicately and poignantly rendered."
Andrew Maisel, Classical Source, September 2009

"The 93-year-old composer was in the audience to hear Leonidas Kavakos bring the violin part alive, weaving its birdlike narration through the dark, enchanted canopy of the orchestra with a soulfulness that was absolutely compelling."
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, September 2009

Prom 44: Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Fischer, Royal Albert Hall, London
“Primary colours were again muted in the beautiful performance of Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto which followed. It was as if the soloist, Leonidas Kavakos, and conductor, Ivan Fischer, were at all times mindful that one of Bartok’s favourite composers was Strauss. Romantic reverie was the key here in a reading which felt forever poised on the edge of dreams. Kavakos took his cue from the strumming harp, lyre-like at the start, lending the rapt opening theme an air of ancient fable. Feverish dances jolted us back to reality with smouldering trills and fiery arpeggios reminding us exactly where we were – deep in the Hungarian heartlands. But it was Kavakos’s miracles of fine shading that one took away from this performance, his stratospheric song blissfully duetting with celeste at the close of the slow movement like a fading memory.”
The Independent, August 2009

New York Philharmonic with David Robertson / Bartok Concerto No.2
“Kavakos conveyed the rhapsodic flights, endless variety and subtle blend of folkloric tunes with modernistic wildness … He dispatched the virtuosic challenges with a cool command and paradoxically enhanced the bravura excitement … this performance roused the audience to a long ovation.”
New York Times, October 2008

London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev / Prokofiev Concerto No.1
“Kavakos wove a silver thread of sound around the woodwind voices, the very stuff of fairy tales. There were malevolent contrasts, too, with beasts for every beauty, and Kavakos unlocked those with a fantastic range of gruesome colours and wicked articulation. With the closing trills, fairy dust settled over us.”
The Independent, October 2008

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Camerata Salzburg, Enrico Pace & Patrick Demenga / Mendelssohn Violin Concerto & piano trios (Sony Classical)
“This is the first release in Mendelssohn year to have come my way that truly adds to the festivities. Kavakos offers a compelling, unsugary reading of the Concerto (where, for a change, you sense the legacy of Beethoven as much as anyone). But lack of heart-on-sleeve isn’t to suggest in any way a lack of expression: quite the reverse – how Kavakos revels in those moments of introspection, the violin looking down from way, way up in the stratosphere. There’s plenty of fine detail, too, both in the solo part and the orchestra, but there’s always a sense of it arising out of the music; Mutter by comparison sounds very premeditated. The Camerata’s playing is an additional delight, creating an intimate rapport with the soloist.

In lesser hands, Kavakos’s moderate tempo for the slow movement might threaten to drag, but – as Hilary Hahn has previously shown – if the interpretation is sufficiently interesting, it can still convince, even though for my taste the slightly swifter Hope is better still. The finale is less an explosion of exuberance than Hope’s, but Kavakos’s filigree lightness bodes well for the chamber music and the climactic build-up is utterly life-enhancing.

The trios are on a similar level, with Kavakos joined by two superb musicians. It’s striking in the second movement of the D minor Trio that they observe Mendelssohn’s detached markings – unlike many who can’t resist the temptation to swoon here. And the Trio of the same work is a relief after the caution of the Mutter recording, the pianist Enrico Pace almost giving Jonathan Gilad (with Fischer and Muller-Schott) a run for his money.

If there’s less mystery about the C minor’s opening that revealed by Fischer et al, then the slow movement is beautifully poised and the finale justifiably exultant.”
Editor’s Choice, Gramophone, October 2009

“Leonidas Kavakos plays the work with unusual nervous tension, not as a weakness but as a conscious decision as to what can lie in the music. His thin, clear, sweet tone suits this approach and is cleanly recorded so that it balances well with an exceptionally lucid orchestral recording. All the same, there are losses, in that Mendelssohn’s lines here are long, even by his most lyrical standards, and need the kind of broad, relaxed sweep that many of the countless violinists who have recorded the work bring to it. This approach, though, does prepare Kavakos for the sense of pathos he finds in the Andante, in which there is a stronger element of a feature of his phrasing in the opening movement, namely a tendency to over-stress the parts of a long phrase rather than take the line as a whole with inner emphases. This works best in the short Allegretto linking the music to the finale, which is lively and played with firm attack.

These are outstanding performances by all three players, and if issued on their own might well be candidates for being judged Outstanding.”
International Record Review, September 2009

"There are over 60 recordings of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in the catalogue, but this version from Greek virtuoso Leonidas Kavakos certainly stands out among them. This is not the drooping, chastely melancholy concerto portrayed by some players like Viktoria Mullova, this is a virile, full-blooded piece. The fleet-footed dance of the finale has fire as well as grace, and the slow movement has numerous tiny inflections of tempo and phrasing which imbue the melody with urgent feeling.

Kavakos also directs his own Camerata Salzburg orchestra, which is alert to his every twist and turn. The concerto is coupled with Mendelssohn’s trios for piano, violin and cello, and if anything these are even more impressive. Pianist Enrico Pace is fabulously fleet-fingered in the scherzos, but again a deeper, weightier Mendelssohn is revealed, beyond salon grace and elfin lightness. The players even managed to make the saccharine slow movement of the First Trio seem genuinely moving."
The Telegraph, August 2009

“As a violinist whose dazzling virtuosity is rooted in the deepest musicianship, Leonidas Kavakos has few equals when it comes to the concertos of the early 20th century”
Sunday Telegraph, August 2009

“ both soloist and conductor, Kavakos clearly generates a real rapport with the players. His account of one of the most hackneyed works in the violinist's repertoire achieves the near impossible of sounding fresh and original - there's an urgency and nervous energy about Kavakos's playing that's vividly communicated to the orchestra.”
The Guardian, August 2009

"The quality fibre of this serious artist is immediately on show in his violin’s opening statement, with its finely spun tone and scrupulously enunciated rhythms. He keeps his interpretation fresh and personal as Mendelssohn leads him from turbulent passion through liquid song to the finale’s delicate sparkle. The orchestra is a good partner, too.

Deluged with performances in this centenary year, I was beginning to think I never wanted to hear the work again. Kavakos’s interpretation showed me I was wrong."
The Times, July 2009