Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace @ Koerner Hall reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, February 5, 2011. Koerner Hall, Toronto.

In a peerless performance, who can tell the musicians from the music?

Kavakos is among the top ‘live-wire’ violinists in the world. Enrico Pace, though less renowned, was able to match his piano’s intonations to the virtuosic violin, and flawlessly maintained the rhythmic space in which this evening’s music sang and danced.

The duo’s first offering was Prokofiev’s “wind howling in a cemetery” Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80, the fruit of the composer’s eight year struggle to cope with the sonorities of violin and piano. The opening walking piano line underpins the violin’s grating scratch, then moves in imitation through a patch of dark chords towards a conclusion that sounds like the footfalls of a solitary nightwalker whispering paranoid speculations to himself.

Out of this, in the three following movements, a narrative develops that is part Hans Christian Anderson lyricism that enviegles itself straight into your heart, and part the satire of a Brecht/Weill opera salted with gestures in the direction of Shostakovich and his madcap refusals to be silenced. The Finale, initially fleet and light-fingered, develops an fff ferocity that subsides into a sad, lyric, lament.

The mantle of Shostakovich, Schnittke and Kancheli has fallen on the beautiful shoulders of Lera Auerbach. The Kavakos/Pace performance of  selections from her 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano (1999) came across like a essay on the nature of time. In the first “Prelude in C major,” the piano’s one note ostinato drips like a series of discrete moments through which the continuous vibration of the violin’s insanely rising scale steadily streams. “Prelude No. 18 in F minor” moves into a romantic, lyric mood:out of the bell-tone of the piano the anguished violin declaims a melodrama that carries dissonance to the edge of tonality.

Between the keystrokes of Pace and Kavakos’ line (extenuated to a fineness just this side of a whisper) develops a tension that speaks of ‘waiting’: waiting for the next tone to come, waiting for a tone to fade out, waiting for a line to reach the breaking point, waiting to hear for ‘whom the bell tolls.’ The work concludes with a traditional meditation in Bachean counterpoint following which Pace’s piano wires seem to transform from metal to glass and Kavakos brushes his bow ever more lightly to whisper a tone so ethereal it “teases us out of thought.”

Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata after intermission arrived like a rich port following an exotic meal. The performance surprised with its Mozartean lightness.

Please address your comments to stanley@showtimemagazine.ca

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