A large rapt audience witnessed a very special musical event from the “odd couple” pairing of Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang. Superficial differences in musical style and personal presentation counted for nothing with musicianship of this order. After a slightly nervous start from Wang in the exposition of the Mozart Violin Sonata in B flat major K.454, where some of the passagework seemed to suffer from too much of the sustaining pedal, things soon settled down. The beautiful Andante was wonderfully sustained with the light vibrato sweetness of tone produced by Kavakos ideally suited to the music. In the sparkling and witty finale, Wang showed us what she could really do with Mozartian fingerwork, gossamer and crystal clear.

Yuja Wang
© Kirk Edwards

The empathetic interaction between the duo reached new heights in Prokofiev's Violin Sonata no. 1 in F minor that followed. This is a highly personal work, giving us a glimpse of the pain the composer felt in the tightrope world of Soviet Russia. It’s expressive range encompasses grim resignation, violent anarchy, heartfelt tragedy and ghostly chattering. All were most unflinchingly presented here. Wang has developed a particular relationship with Prokofiev and all the colours of the elaborate piano part were given their full due. It was also the strength and clarity of Kavakos' tone throughout that shone through. The deeply felt Andante was presented with such sincerity and unsentimental pathos by the duo that it seemed to suspend time.

Bartók's Rhapsody no. 1 for violin and piano from 1928, seemed somewhat lightweight after the Prokofiev, but it is a work designed to please, written by the composer for himself and the violinist Joseph Szigeti to play on a tour of America. Kavakos and Wang played it with aplomb and virtuosity, with Kavakos finding an apt earthiness in his tone.

Leonidas Kavakos
© Marco Borggreve

A rare outing of Richard Strauss' early Violin Sonata completed the programme. A youthful work, its sonata form first movement is rather too heavily under the shadow of Brahms. Kavakos and Wang managed to winkle out the more extravagant Straussian elements and in their hands the movement sounded more convincing than usual. The beautiful slow movement, however, needs no apologists and this songlike piece was given the rare intensity that was at the fingertips of this impressive duo throughout the evening. Again the tone produced by Kavakos was ideal, full and generous but with a very tight control of vibrato. The bravura piano writing in the Finale was a gift for Wang, who managed to produce power and delicacy at the same time to splendid effect.

Two generous encores almost managed to outshine the main programme. The Intermezzo from Brahms Violin Sonata no. 3 in D minor Op.108 was deliciously presented and The Fountain of Arethusa, the first of the Szymanowski’s Myths, was shamelessly sensuous and refined. The empathetic truthfulness of all their performances on this special occasion was extraordinary.