Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor – Leonidas Kavakos, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša

Greek violin soloist Leonidas Kavakos performing Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77, with Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša. Recorded at Rudolfinum, Dvořák Hall, Prague, on October 19, 2017.

As many know, Shostakovich wrote two violin concertos. But his work list suggests two separate versions of the First, the Op.77 and the Op.99. The Violin Concerto No.1 was originally completed in 1948, but withheld for seven years by the composer, owing to the oppressive climate for artists in the Soviet Union at the time. Any new work might have drawn the wrath of Stalin and his cronies in the arts. Shostakovich returned to the score in 1955 and then assigned the higher opus number to it. Actually, the only documented change he made came not as a result of second thoughts, but as a matter of consideration for the soloist. During rehearsals in 1955, the virtuoso violinist David Oistrakh requested of Shostakovich that the opening statement of the fourth movement's main theme be given to the orchestra, so that the soloist could take a rest following the long cadenza which leads right into the finale, and Shostakovich agreed to make the change.

The First Violin Concerto begins as a dark work, full of that gloom and dread that pervade so many of Shostakovich's serious works. The first movement Nocturne starts off with an ominous theme that is both inwardly reflective and filled with foreboding. Midway through, a thinly veiled Dies Irae appears as the music becomes more tense. Yet, a climactic release never quite arrives and the suggested conflicts remain unresolved.

The second movement is a rather diabolical Scherzo that contains some interesting allusions, first to the third movement of the Tenth Symphony (1953) and later to the first movement of the Second Piano Concerto (1957). The violin and woodwinds scurry about to deliver the playful yet menacing material, but gradually the character of the movement becomes more sarcastic, eventually breaking into a hallucinatory folk dance. The latter part of the Scherzo sounds less acidic, the diabolic and sarcastic elements surrender to the driving, insistent energy.

The third movement is a Passacaglia that has a chorale-like quality at the outset, as the woodwinds deliver a mournful theme. The violin enters playing the main theme, one of the composer's loveliest and warmest creations. Shostakovich's 1943 Eighth Symphony's fourth movement also featured a passacaglia, though of a decidedly grimmer character. Here, there is tension, but also much beauty. The latter third of the movement is taken up by a brilliant cadenza, which leads directly into the brief finale, a Burlesque of a mostly festive nature. The mood is similar to that of the faster music in the Tenth Symphony's finale, though there are no clear thematic references. While the work ends triumphantly, its manic qualities suggest a discomfort by the composer, as though the happy resolution might have been disingenuous.

Shostakovich eliminated trumpets and trombones from the orchestration of this Concerto, and his writing is otherwise sensitive to the limited tone of a solo violin playing amid a large ensemble. A typical performance of this work lasts about 35 minutes.

Source: Robert Cummings (

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

♪ Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77 (1947-1948)

i. Nocturne (Moderato) [00:34]*
ii. Scherzo (Allegro) [13:07]
iii. Passacaglia (Andante) [20:12]
iii(a). Cadenza
iv. Burlesque (Allegro con brio – Presto) [33:43]

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

♪ Violin Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (1720) [43:01]

iii. Sarabande

Leonidas Kavakos, violin

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Jakub Hrůša

 Prague, Rudolfinum, Dvořák Hall, October 19, 2017

(HD 720p)

* Start time of each part

Leonidas Kavakos is recognised across the world as a violinist and artist of rare quality, known at the highest level for his virtuosity, superb musicianship and the integrity of his playing. He works with the world's greatest orchestras and conductors and is an exclusive artist with Decca Classics.

The three important mentors in his life have been Stelios Kafantaris, Josef Gingold and Ferenc Rados. By the age of 21, Leonidas Kavakos had already won three major competitions: the Sibelius Competition in 1985, and the Paganini and Naumburg competitions in 1988. This success led to him recording the original Sibelius Violin Concerto (1903/1904), the first recording of this work in history, and which won Gramophone Concerto of the Year Award in 1991.

Leonidas Kavakos was the winner of the Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2017. This prestigious prize is Denmark's highest musical honour and is awarded annually to an internationally recognised composer, instrumentalist, conductor or singer. Previous winners include Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mstislav Rostropovich, Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti, Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim and Sir Simon Rattle.

In the 2017-2018 season Kavakos will be Artist in Residence at both the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Vienna Musikverein. He will tour Europe with the Filharmonica della Scala and Chailly and tour Europe and Asia with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Blomstedt. Elsewhere, he will perform widely as soloist including with the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Kavakos also gives the European premiere of Lera Auerbach's Nyx: Fractured Dreams (Violin Concerto No.4) with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.

In December 2017 Kavakos will embark on a European recital tour with Yuja Wang, and in February 2018 he tours North America performing Brahms and Schubert trios with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. He will also appear in recital with regular chamber music partner Enrico Pace in Asia and Europe.

Latterly, Leonidas Kavakos has built a strong profile as a conductor, and has conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Gürzenich Orchester, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Filarmonica Teatro La Fenice, and Budapest Festival orchestras. In the 2017-2018 season he will conduct the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, and Vienna Symphony.

As an exclusive recording artists with Decca Classics, his first release was Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Enrico Pace (January 2013), which was awarded the ECHO Klassik "Instrumentalist of the Year". This was followed by the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Riccardo Chailly (October 2013), Brahms Violin Sonatas with Yuja Wang (March 2014), and "Virtuoso" (April 2016). He was awarded Gramophone Artist of the Year 2014. In September 2017 Leonidas Kavakos joins Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax on a record of Brahms Trios released by Sony Classical.

Leonidas Kavakos' earlier discography encompasses recordings for BIS, ECM, and subsequently, for Sony Classical, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (ECHO Klassik "Best Concerto Recording") and Mozart's Violin Concertos, conducting and playing with Camerata Salzburg.

Born and brought up in a musical family in Athens and still resident there, Kavakos curates an annual violin and chamber-music masterclass in Athens, attracting violinists and ensembles from all over the world and reflecting his deep commitment to the handing on of musical knowledge and traditions. Part of this tradition is the art of violin and bow-making, which Kavakos regards as a great mystery and to this day, an undisclosed secret. He plays the "Willemotte" Stradivarius violin of 1734 and owns modern violins made by F. Leonhard, S. P. Greiner, E. Haahti and D. Bagué.

Source: (2017)

More photos

See also

Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor – Leonidas Kavakos, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (HD 1080p)

Sergei Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No.1 in D major – Leonidas Kavakos, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (HD 1080p)


Johannes Brahms: The Violin Sonatas – Leonidas Kavakos, Yuja Wang (Audio video)

Johannes Brahms: Sonata for piano and violin No.2 in A major – Yuja Wang, Leonidas Kavakos

Maurice Ravel: Sonata for violin and piano No.1 in A minor – Leonidas Kavakos, Yuja Wang

Ottorino Respighi: Violin Sonata in B minor – Leonidas Kavakos, Yuja Wang


Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor – Nicola Benedetti, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (HD 1080p)

Dmitri Shostakovich – All the posts

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