A violin superstar brings perhaps too much personality to the Baroque

Leonidas Kavakos: Bach

The Strad Issue: April 2024

Description: A violin superstar brings perhaps too much personality to the Baroque

Musicians: Leonidas Kavakos (violin) Apollon Ensemble

Works: Bach: Violin Concertos: A minor BWV1041, E major BWV1042, D minor BWV1052R, G minor BWV1056R; Suite No.3 BWV1068: Air 

Catalogue number: SONY CLASSICAL 0196588689321

Leonidas Kavakos’s accounts of these provoke a mixture of positive and negative reactions. His technical athleticism, lightly articulated bow-strokes, clinical precision, pliancy and rhetorical spontaneity acknowledge period-performance practices to good effect; and he adds drama a-plenty, especially in the darkly intense opening Allegro of the D minor and his numerous rhetorical flourishes in the Presto of the G minor. His communication and musical affinity with the one-per-part Apollon Ensemble also ensure tautly controlled performances, transparent textures and a rare unanimity of sound and purpose, cleanly captured by Sony’s engineers.

Regrettably, Kavakos allows his extrovert virtuosity to consume him. He adopts breakneck speeds for many of the fast movements, especially the finale of the A minor Concerto, in which demisemiquavers fly by without really registering. By contrast, his indulgently slow tempo in the E major’s Adagio and the excessively delayed resolution on the pause on the dominant chord towards its mid-point are almost yawn-inducing. His approach to extempore embellishment, too, often seems misguided, notably when he adds intrusive ornamentation into Bach’s already florid melodic lines, as in the central movements of BWV1041 and 1042 and in some fast movements. The Apollon contributes to this ornamental revelry, too, especially in BWV1042; and Kavakos’s flamboyant cadential flourishes in the opening Allegro and central Adagio of the D minor and the G minor’s finale also seem somewhat idiosyncratic.