Kavakos Takes Up the Baton …. With Mixed Results

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven: Leonidas Kavakos (conductor/violin), Tim Hugh (cello), Enrico Pace (piano), London Symphony Orchestra; Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 04.06.2014 (SRT)

Beethoven:   Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus
Triple Concerto
Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”


Long known (and highly regarded) as a violinist, Leonidas Kavakos has decided to take up the conductor’s baton.  It’s quite a compliment to be given the LSO as a band to experiment with and the results were often interesting, but overall it was a mixed success.  For one thing, his gestures reveal that he’s fairly new to this game: he conducted the Prometheus overture like a wound up stick-man, and from time to time he didn’t seem entirely au fait with basic concert etiquette, such as when to bring an individual to his feet or when to raise the whole band.

However, he shaped Prometheus fairly convincingly, with a very broad opening section that was underpinned by fantastically resonant basses.  Those basses also sounded great in the subtle opening of the Triple Concerto, and the orchestral palette was fantastic throughout; but I found the performance as a whole rather unconvincing.  For one thing, the soloists seemed to rely a bit too much on luck and good measure rather than genuine communication, something precipitated by the bizarre decision to seat them facing away from one another.  This cut off a vital line of communication – especially vital when the conductor is also a soloist – and meant that a lot of the busy passages for soloists alone simply weren’t together.  Kavakos’ violin was perfectly fine, as was Pace’s piano, but both gave way to the glorious cantabile sound that flowed from Tim Hugh’s cello.

I began to wonder after a while whether the orchestra was actually paying any attention to Kavakos, who waved his arms during the tutti sections but to little seeming effect.  They seemed rather to go their own way during the symphony, too, but the result was actually remarkably good: an orchestra as experienced and as rounded as this is one that can cope admirably with being left to their own devices in repertoire like this.  In fact, the symphony sounded much more together than did the concerto, the orchestra seemingly able to read one another better than the trio of soloists.  Highlights included the firecracker opening, the glorious sound of the horns (uproarious in the Scherzo, strangely beautiful towards the end of the first movement) and the burgeoning sense of majesty as the finale approached its climax.  So the grandeur, so lacking in the concerto, got there by the end of the evening, and the wait was just about worth it.

Simon Thompson

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