“The Most Perfect Music Ever Written”: Violinist Leonidas Kavakos on Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Recording | To concentrate
The following excerpt is from The Strad’s March 2022 issue “Leonidas Kavakos: Deep Thinker”. To read it in its entirety, click here to subscribe and log in. The month of March 2022 digital magazine and print edition are on sale now
I talk to Leonidas Kavakos about Se alone, his new recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Sony. It is perhaps surprising that this is the first time that the famous Greek violinist has put the complete set on disc, and that 20 years have passed since he recorded his album comprising the First Sonata and the First Partita interspersed with Stravinsky’s work. concert duet and Italian Suite for ECM in 2002. But his reason for waiting until the comparatively advanced age of 53 (his age when the recording was made in December 2020) to put his personal stamp on the seminal works goes back to this revelation from there more than three decades old. This prompted him to completely and fundamentally rethink his approach to Bach – so much so that it would take him nine years to perform the works in concert again. And rather than running to share his new ideas with the world on record, Kavakos decided to wait until his new attitude felt “natural”.
Admittedly, by the time of the 2002 partial recording, it had been 13 years since Kavakos had first heard Kuijken’s album, so he had plenty of time to develop his revised approach to Bach. “At that time, it wasn’t totally new to me. more – but it was still much more recent than today”, he specifies. ‘On this 2022 recording, the slow movements are more deliberately narrated, and the fugues breathe and swing more. It’s better structured and there’s more emphasis on polyphony.
So what did Kavakos hear that changed his outlook so much in 1989? “First of all, the lower tuning on this album completely opened up the sound of the violin,” he says. “The lower frequency creates space for bass notes to actually sound like bass notes. Because the violin is a high frequency instrument, we generally lack depth in the low registers. But more than that, a darker string color can also affect the color of the D, A, and E strings, making them freer. It might be a little less powerful because there’s less tension on the bridge, but the sound is so much more relaxed and singing – and instruments love it!
This quality of singing went hand in hand with the second element of Belgian Baroque violinist Sigiswald Kuijken’s recording – an abandonment of the consuming seriousness of the recordings of the time for a lighter, swinging style. “Bach’s music is the most perfect music ever written, and he was an inspiration to all composers who came after,” Kavakos explains. “But his music is a reflection of life, and life isn’t always serious – there’s also humor and dance, and uplifting moods to counter the darker ones.”
But these differences in style and tonal color pale in comparison to the technical question of chord distribution. “There is no law in mathematics that two plus two equals three. But when we violinists are faced with a three-note chord, for some reason we halve it,” marvels- “I don’t think that’s correct under any circumstances; but especially in Bach’s music, which is full of such chords, it becomes very tiring – and it makes our instrument, the ‘poor violin’, seem is not really able to support Bach’s concept of polyphony.
“Instead, we should look at the chord notes as if they were different actors in a play. In a three-note chord, there are three players, each speaking a word. The most important thing in this situation is the timing, because if the three performers say their word together and with the same accent, it will confuse the audience. The voices should not sound the same and at the same time. Instead, there should be inequality in terms of the distribution of grades. It is also important to remember that not all chords have to follow gravity and the curve of the bridge to end on the E string. It is possible to promote the melody with the right support from the vocals above and below. of the line.
The shift to lightness and buoyancy may seem consistent with using a more nimble and dexterous Baroque bow, but Kavakos is adamant that his modern bow is the best tool for performing these works. Again, the decision concerns the distribution of agreements. “Using a baroque or classical stick would require me to play most chords with a bow down, and I don’t have that restriction with my modern bow,” he explains. “A Baroque or Classical bow is so helpful in learning how to process music – it gets you to play the way it’s meant to be. But once you have that knowledge, there is simply no period bow that can match the capacity of a large Tourte or Peccatte bow.