Thirty-seven-year-old Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili has emerged as one of the two or three leading violin soloists in the world today. Having won the Sibelius Competition at sixteen (1995), she has been astounding musicians and audiences alike ever since. Few violinists today play with Batiashvili’s combination of remarkable technique, tone quality, maturity, and expressiveness. Last year, Deutsche Grammophon released a classic version of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden. This year, DG has given us near-definitive recordings of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius violin concertos, with Lisa Batiashvili as soloist.
The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, one of the most overplayed pieces in the repertoire, comes up fresh and consistently engrossing in this new recording. Batiashvili has no trouble with any of the formidable technical issues, nor does she try to do anything radical in the way of interpretation. The finest artists, one might note, seldom change tempos, dynamics or phrasing in strange ways; rather, they get to the heart of what the composer intended with an accurate rendition of the score. A case in point is the solo section between the two big orchestral tuttis in the first movement. Batiashvili finds a light-hearted dance quality in the music that I had never noticed before. It is charming and sounds absolutely right. Thankfully, Barenboim does not go out of his way to make the accompaniment sound ‘different;’ he simply insists on accuracy, beauty of tone, and careful attention to balances from his musicians. The result is a classic interpretation of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
Similarly, in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, these artists are not interested in showing off, but rather, in getting to the heart of the music, which they do, as few performers have done before them. One feels confident that Batiashvili will not only hit all the right notes, but also that she will respect the composer’s wishes. Although necessary, accuracy and a faithful reading of the score alone can be deadly dull. Batiashvili is never dull. Her tone is pure, but inflected with subtle variations that render the music consistently expressive. She also knows how to build climaxes with carefully modulated increases in volume. In Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin, she has a conductor and orchestra willing and able to provide the most sensitive accompaniment imaginable, as well as enormously powerful orchestral climaxes when required. Great sound from the DG engineers. Like the Tchaikovsky — a classic performance.
I have said it often, but it bears repeating: Staatskapelle Berlin, which like Staatskapelle Dresden and the Vienna Philharmonic, is basically an opera orchestra, has, under Barenboim’s direction become one of the world’s great concert orchestras. Orchestra and conductor will be resident in New York for an extended period in this month. Between January 19 and 29, they will perform all nine Bruckner symphonies. The other works on the program will all be Mozart piano concertos with Barenboim conducting from the keyboard. Obviously, this will be one of the major musical events of the season in New York. Might be time for a trip to the Big Apple.