Saturday, 5 November 2016

Lisa Batiashvili: Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky

For the past sixteen years, I have been a faithful admirer of the violinist Lisa (formerly Elisabeth) Batiashvili. I recounted recently how she was in my top echelons for recordings of the “big” violin concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, and Shostakovich. I greatly admire her poise, and her extraordinary powers of concentration, a concentration that means she can often get away with tempos slower than many of her fellow instrumentalists. She always has beautifully judged dynamics, perfect phrasing, all allied to an immaculate technique. Which is why I seized upon her new CD of the well-worn violin concertos of Sibelius and Tchaikovsky (DG, with the Berlin Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim).

I already have one excellent recording of Batiashvili in the Sibelius concerto, one she made in 2007 with Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio orchestra. This new recording is similar to that excellent old one, with the Finnish orchestra sounding perhaps more involved than the Germans (although the orchestra does not play a big part in Sibelius's concerto). In 2007, Batiashvili was slightly faster in the first movement, but pretty well the same tempo in the second and third movements. If I prefer the old orchestra, I slightly prefer the newer Batiashvili; even more poised, more serene and mature, and even more immaculate in dynamics, intonation and phrasing. In 2007 the playing was slightly more passionate; in 2016, more poised and elegant. And maybe her violin (now a del Gesù) sounds better here than in the 2007 recording.

Batiashvili was a known quantity in the Sibelius concerto (she won the Sibelius prize with it, long ago) but I was curious to hear her in the Tchaikovsky concerto, an unlikely choice for the Batiashvili treatment, I would have thought. She confesses that she avoided the Tchaikovsky concerto for many years, since “everyone plays it” and (I would guess) she suspected it did not really suit her style of playing. But: a pleasant surprise. After Radulovic's “slash and burn” approach (that I greatly admired recently), Lisa is warm and lyrical. There is a beautiful and fascinating account of the first movement cadenza; what intonation! And really lovely playing in the slow movement. The Tchaikovsky concerto gains immensely in stature when played like this. Radulovic and Batiashvili are chalk and cheese in this concerto but, in my heavenly tomb, I will take the Batiashvili version with me for its poetry and entrancing violin playing.

Damn it: the girl has scored two more bull's eyes! The violin on the DG disc is balanced a little more forward than is usual at the moment, and this is a good thing since I do not have to strain to hear the violin when it is played pianissimo, or with harmonics. I am running out of three stars. I really hope that one day Batiashvili will launch into the Elgar and Britten violin concertos (where she would almost certainly once again arrive at the front of the grid).


Björn Westberg said...

This is the first time ever I hit upon your site, thanks to Pristine Records and your review cited there.
For the moment I only wish to say that Lisa is my favourite violinist almost of all time. The same with Furtwängler - plus Fricsay and Mitropoulos. And a few others.
And my favourite pianist is - Brendel!! His own motto of playing is quite the opposite of your description of his way and also opposite to my view of Brendel's procedure. And of course Brendel admires Lisa and vice versa.
Best regards, Björn Westberg

Harry Collier said...

Thanks for the comment, Björn. We can share Lisa and Furtwängler. But not Brendel !

Best regards,