If ever two musicians seemed to be in their own separate worlds when playing together, it’s the violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang. And yet the level of shared detail and purpose in this recital – a generous programme of three meaty sonatas and three encores – was proof of the ongoing strength of the longstanding occasional partnership between these star soloists.
Much of the music’s sense of propulsion came from Wang, though she rarely signposted it. In Brahms’s Sonata No 1 it was Kavakos who was in the foreground, playing with irresistible warmth and with his trademark clean articulation of each note even within a single bow stroke. But behind him, Wang’s deceptively unassuming, almost out-of-focus playing worked with those melodies to capture this music’s quality of elusiveness, if such a thing can be done.
Wang could of course be assertive when it counted. Janáček’s Violin Sonata had the two players in more of an equal dialogue, calling and responding, all eloquently done. Between Kavakos’s sense of disciplined abandon and Wang’s easy virtuosity this was a performance of huge scope. The brief third movement had about as much drama as these two instruments could conjure; later on, as the music subsided and Wang’s tremolos waxed and waned, it sounded almost as if the piano were breathing.
Schumann’s Sonata No 2 was just as vividly coloured. In this it was the theme-and-variations third movement that was special, taking us out of the concert hall to some German inn long ago and far away. The theme, in the sweet spot between a hymn and a tavern song, was first picked out by Wang while Kavakos strummed his guitar-like accompaniment; when the two then joined together to play it again, this time with sweet, almost sentimental harmonising, they sounded delightfully like two rheumy-eyed old regulars in duet.
For the encores, two Brahms sonata movements – one fiery, one beautifully lightweight – framed a performance of Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 1 that went with a swing and a stomp, another highlight in an evening of wonderfully fluid chamber music.