EIF 2015 review: Kavakos & Wang

First published in The Herald on 27 August, 2015

Three Brahms violin sonatas, all in a row, and an encore of more Brahms (the C-minor Scherzo). Not a programme I would want from most musicians, but Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang made it engrossing — a study of Brahms at his most exploratory and unguarded, a feast of rich sonority and glorious melody. These two musicians are splendidly different in looks and sound. She made a costume change during the interval, he did not. As a pianist Wang is athletic and quixotic: she made clear work of the thick Brahmsian textures and unleashed sounds ranging from brash metallic to sultry heavy-pedalling. Sometimes — start of the G-Major Sonata — I wanted more assertiveness from her; other times — close of the D-Minor — her attack was explosively volatile. She was full of surprises.

Kavakos is endlessly fascinating to watch and hear. He is a deeply unfrivolous musician yet his delivery can seem almost casual. His gaze roamed the hall; he might have been playing for friends in his living room. A violin looks tiny in his hands and, though his technique is immaculate, there’s an ungainliness to the way he moves around the instrument — it’s as though he plays on it, rather than plays it. The sound he makes is not slick or suave or glossy but it is very beautiful in its rough-hewn warmth, husky low register and easy, fluid bowing. To me there’s something of a folk fiddler about him. His Brahms was beguiling, every movement drawn as a natural arc and every gesture totally unmannered. Several young children were in the audience, every bit rapt as the rest of us.