Verbier 2016: Bartok, Brahms and Schubert

If you want an introduction to chamber music and get a flavour of just how rewarding it can be, the Verbier Festival should be on your list.

Performances here are the product of the community spirit that underpins the Festival. The concerts are collaborations between friends whose mastery of their instrument comes in a close second to an unequivocal passion for their art.

The spirit which emanated from the stage sets the bar high: this is what the music was written for, anything less than what you see here probably isn’t worth listening to.

In Bartok’s Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin and Piano opened the programme; clarinettist Martin Frost coerced, taunted, and cajoled with a sometimes devilish balletic presence. The menacing first movement gave way to a plaintiff second featuring an exquisitely sweet high melody from violinist Leonidas Kavakos. The third and final contrast brought things to a spectacular end, violin and clarinet locked into a frenzied battle to the end. Frost’s breathing is remarkable in fast sequences like those in the last movement, so too his fluid finger work.

The Brahms Trio saw violin Kavakos come to the fore – a dramatic contrast with the Bartok before it – playing with a tone so evenly matched with his counterpart Gautier Capucon (cello) that the difference between the two instruments was imperceptible. Capucon is a remarkable force on stage: a brilliant cellist whose technique is flawless, and range utterly enthralling.

Kavakos is humble and self-effacing, but Capucon still takes care not to let personality get in the way of the instrument’s voice. As a result, the immediacy of their music-making transports the audience quickly to a higher plane. A sublime first movement was followed y a delicate playful second movement with some heart-warming connections between cello and pianist Yuja Wang.

And while the fourth movement was suitably conclusive, the notable moment was during the remarkably still third in which all the instrumentalists on stage pulled the audience in further with the quietest sound created by the smallest gestures.

Pianist Yuja Wang had her moment with Schubert’s Piano Quintet Op. 44, in what had surely, by then, been a demanding programme. Kavakos, Wang and Capucon were joined on stage, by violinist Roman Simovic and viola player Blythe Teh Engstroem.

Between them produced moments of great warmth, spirit, and precision. They worked closely together, exchanging glances and infectious smiles. The third movement was so good, the audience continued to clap at the end of the concert until the group sat down and played it again.

All images are the copyright of Aline Paley

Verbier 2015: Leonidas Kavakos

Leonidas Kavakos’ programme for the 2015 Verbier Festival featured sonatas by Mozart, Schumann and Bartok accompanied by Ferenc Rados.

Kavakos sweet and delicate string tone cut is a beguiling thing – most evident in the often unorthodox B flat major sonata K. 454. There were moments in the opening work where it felt as though violin and piano were battling dynamics slightly (with the piano winning from the time to time), on occasion with the addition of Rados humming along. This was tempered by sublime ensemble passages in what appears like a tricky work.

As the programme progressed so we saw more and more of Kavakos’ insistence and determination. In the Bartok sonata second movement there were moments of the violinist letting his guard down and really showing us what was going on.

It was however the Schumann which really saw Leonidas fly. The violinist has an appealing lack of pretension when he plays. In his most passionate outbursts his gentle presence contributes to a compelling authenticity. At times during the work, he turned full on to the audience, pulling us in to the richness of the soundscape him and Rados were sculpting. A mesmerizing performance. I just wished Rados could smiled a little, especially given the applause was so warm and appreciate.

Watch Kavakos’ Verbier 2015 recital for free via Medici.TV