Friday, 18 January 2013

Lisa Batiashvili in Brahms

The Russians – led by Heifetz, Kogan and Oistrakh – began the tradition that the Brahms violin concerto is a macho work, where a big, tough violin competes with an orchestra and dominates it. It is good, however, to hear an alternative view and I lapped up the performance by Lisa Batiashvili in partnership with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Christian Thielemann. First and foremost: this is a partnership performance, much in the way that any concerto performance with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting became a partnership, rather than a soloist accompanied obediently by a deferential orchestra.

Lisa Batiashvili has long been one of my absolute favourites among modern violinists, faced with a veritable horde of competitors. In this performance of the Brahms concerto she gives a thoroughly feminine view, as opposed to the usual machismo one. Her concentration is as remarkable as ever, as is her lovely violin tone and her penchant for real piano and pianissimo playing; you often need good ears to hear Lisa. The sound engineers have placed the violin within the overall sound picture, as opposed to its usual prominent focus. The tempi adopted by Batiashvili and Thielemann are fluid and, thankfully, a little faster than is now fashionable; the adagio, in particular, preserves a good forward momentum. This performance goes straight into my first-echelon ranking, like so many of Batiashvili's performances. The first movement cadenza is by Busoni, rather than the usual Joachim, and this makes a refreshing change.

I have not met Christian Thielemann before (except as the conductor on Diana Damrau's exceptional collection of Strauss Lieder) but he impresses me in the Brahms concerto with Batiashvili; a German conductor in the Furtwängler mould when in partnership in a major concerto. So well done Johannes Brahms, Lisa Batiashvili, Christian Thielemann, the Dresden Staatskapelle, and the DG sound engineers. The only sour note is one unconnected with the music or the performance: nine photos of Lisa Batiashvili; one sideview of Christian Thielemann; none of Alice Sara Ott who partners Batiashvili in the three Romances by Clara Schumann that constitute a miserly filler to this short-duration CD. And no photos, of course, of Johannes Brahms. Very clear where DG's marketing department has its priority and what it thinks it is selling.

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