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Music

Music Review

Left breathless by Beethoven

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Enrico Pace performing at Jordan Hall on Sunday.

Robert Torres

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Enrico Pace performing at Jordan Hall on Sunday.

Beethoven’s reputation preceded the composer at violinist Leonidas Kavakos’s all-Beethoven Celebrity Series recital on Sunday, or at least one version of that reputation: Beethoven the volatile, radical steamroller of musical niceties. Kavakos and pianist Enrico Pace illustrated those qualities with precise, potent lines — and a minimum of shading. It was a concert of brilliant execution and somewhat exhausting insistence.

Make no mistake: They can play. Kavakos (last seen in Boston in November, conducting and soloing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) combined a penetrating sound — a tonal signal impressive for both its power and bandwidth — with uncannily clean technique. Pace demonstrated a finely controlled touch and an ability to maintain it at buzzing speed. The pair pursued similar versions of gilt-edged clarity, the scores transformed into sumptuously appointed sets shot with bright lights and high-definition deep focus.

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Two sonatas from comparatively early in Beethoven’s career were amplified into rhetorical severity. The opening Allegro con brio of the D-major Sonata, Op. 12, No. 1, was punctuated with straight-backed, almost militaristic flourishes, and taken at a tempo such that the fastest passages became zip lines between points of emphasis. The G-major Sonata, Op. 30, No. 3, on its surface seemingly one of Beethoven’s most genial, was also coiled tight: The opening theme, a quick zig-zag of scale, bubbled from a simmer to a hard boil; the finale’s shifts of key were cornered with seatbelt-straining speed.

LEONIDAS KAVAKOS, violin, ENRICO PACE, piano, Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston

Jordan Hall, Boston

Date of concert:
Sunday

If Kavakos and Pace made early Beethoven sound as stormy as middle Beethoven, their middle Beethoven — the Op. 47 “Kreutzer” Sonata — was so intense as to be fissile, everything, tempi, dynamics, contrasts, pushed to extremes. The opening movement was marked by a pervasive suddenness, the closing a punishing momentum.

It was in the sonatas’ middle movements, where tempi and tone were limited to a more moderate range, that one could glimpse a more lyrical style. The “Tempo di minuetto” of the G-major was especially fine, its extraordinary series of cadences — deceptive, authentic, urgent, and wistful — adroitly navigated. The variations at the center of the “Kreutzer,” by their end, worked to a delicate poise.

That other strain finally bloomed in the pair’s encores. Their performance of pieces by Fritz Kreisler — the “Caprice Viennois” and “Schön Rosmarin” — were everything their Beethoven was not: lilting, lingering, playful, effusive. Kavakos and Pace isolated and concentrated the idea of Kreisler’s Viennese charm as much as they had Beethoven’s vehemence. Which is to say: It, too, was a distillation of compositional reputation.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri
@gmail.com
.

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