Majestic Dvořák, uneven Mozart with Kavakos, Dallas Symphony

Fri Oct 26, 2018 at 2:25 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Leonidas Kavakos performed as soloist and conductor with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Thursday night.

Majestic Dvořák followed uneven Mozart at Thursday night’s concert of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with Leonidas Kavakos doubling as violinist and guest conductor at Meyerson Symphony Center.

Kavakos had impressed last week as soloist for the generally tragic, technically demanding Violin Concerto No. 1 of Shostakovich under guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. After that display of expertise with 20th-century modernism, Kavakos this week added the 18th and 19th centuries to his Dallas resume. He also added conducting as well as conducting while playing the violin to his list of accomplishments—with some mixed success.

Kavakos opened Thursday night’s concert by doing double duty as soloist and conductor in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, nicknamed “Turkish” for a brief, exotically-flavored segment in the final movement. 

As violinist, Kavakos combined an appealingly bright, sweet tone quality with some striking interpretive moments—for instance, the breathtaking timing of the long pause before his entry as soloist in the first movement. Mozart gave violinists a wonderful little gift here, and Kavakos played out the full suspense contained in that striking moment of silence. He likewise informed the second movement with an appropriately operatic vocal quality, and brought an appealing touch of the peasant dance to the Menuetto finale.

All of this was undermined, however, by irritating glitches in ensemble, beginning with the rough initial orchestral entry. Conducting while playing an instrument is a trick for which the failure rate is high, even among some outstanding soloists. Kavakos clearly has some wonderful insight into this concerto, but hasn’t mastered the harder-than-it-looks technique of playing a solo instrument while shepherding orchestral forces.

Kavakos set aside his violin and picked up a baton for Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D (“Paris”), conducting from memory. Here, he held the forces of the reduced orchestra together tightly, opening with razor precision in that initial glissando-like upward scale in the strings. Likewise, fluid, concise phrasing characterized the second movement. However—and especially in the final movement—Mozartian elegance and a clear strategy for enlivening the repetitious elements of this work evaded Kavakos.

After intermission, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, also conducted from memory, proved a completely different story. Here, Kavakos demonstrated complete command of the full, high-romantic orchestral forces, as well as a superb understanding of the varied elements at play in this masterpiece. 

Under Kavakos, the first movement flowed through its vividly contrasting moments of grandeur and folk-like energy to a beautifully subtle coda. In the second movement, the opening statement in the winds is answered by a particularly lush response from full orchestra, and violinist Kavakos here understood how to draw the best out of the orchestra’s string section. 

The constant interplay of melody and countermelody in the third movement continued to enhance the arc and momentum; Kavakos’s perfectly timed, emotionally packed approach to that cathartic closing D major chord crowned a performance that illumined the glory of this monument of 19th-century symphonic music.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Meyerson Symphony Center.; 214-692-0203.

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