Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major op.771, Hungarian Dances nos.1, 2, 6 & 11 (arr. Joachim). Bartók: Rhapsodies nos.1 & 23


The Strad Issue: January 2014
Description: A fresh take on a much-recorded masterpiece
Musicians: Leonidas Kavakos (violin) Péter Nagy (piano) Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Composer: Brahms, Bartók

Leonidas Kavakos’s athletic opening flourish sets the scene for an urgent account of the Brahms Concerto where his immaculate technique is placed entirely at the disposal of the composer. Keenly observing dynamic markings, he avoids the autumnal mood that mars so many recordings, and when he is tempted to meditate in Joachim’s first-movement cadenza he creates a sense of spontaneous improvisation. A lovingly shaped slow movement leads to a fast finale where the unfailing clarity of his playing is on a par with my long-preferred account from David Oistrakh in his 1960 recording with Otto Klemperer (EMI).

Riccardo Chailly’s robust backdrop from the Gewandhaus Orchestra points to many inner details that are often overlooked, though his timpani are arguably overstated in the outer movements.  

Kavakos sounds even more at home when he joins the highly reliable Péter Nagy in an unusual coupling of the two Bartók rhapsodies. His little inflections of rhythm and multitude of tonal colours perfectly capture the music’s folk origins. He is equally attuned to the freedom of a gypsy violinist in four of the best-known Brahms Hungarian Dances. The sound quality throughout is superb.   
David Denton