Saturday September 24th, 2016 - Lisa Batiashvili's appearances with The New York Philharmonic are always red-letter events; the mutual admiration society that the luminous violinist has formed with Maestro Alan Gilbert invariably results in something very special, and tonight their entente cordiale produced a magnificent rendering of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.
When I arrived at Geffen Hall, the atmosphere was already abuzz: "Sold Out" signs were just being posted, and a long line of music-lovers hoping for returns was forming. A packed house always creates its own sense of excitement, and when the ever-elegant Ms. Batiashvili strode onto the stage in a stunning black gown with a bejeweled bodice, the welcome was wonderfully warm. Forty minutes later, the violinist was basking in an epic full-house ovation.
It was another female violinist, Maud Powell, who helped popularize the Tchaikovsky concerto - a concerto at first thought by some to be unplayable. Ms. Powell played the New York premiere of the piece in 1889 with the New York Symphony (which merged with the Philharmonic in 1928); tonight, Lisa Batiashvili carried the banner to new heights.
In the concerto's opening movement, Ms. Batiashvili combined passionate lyricism with subtle turns of phrase; her coloratura was fleet and fluent, her shaping of phrases so innately appealing. When Alan Gilbert's full orchestra entered for the big tutti passage, visions of the grandeur of the Romanov court were evoked. Ms. Batiashvili's cadenza sounded a bit modern ("...to old-fashioned ears...", as Mrs. Manson Mingott would say) and her playing of it most impressive: superb control of dynamics and a stunningly sustained double trill which led to a poignant restoration of melody. After treating us to some sizzling fireworks, the violinist sailed graciously into an affecting theme before ascending to some very delicate high-register passages and thence to the movement's final flourishes.
Playing with a melancholy pianissimo, Ms. Batiashvili created a very poetic atmosphere of sadness as the Canzonetta/Andante began. Her tone became incredibly soft, with a lovely sheen to it, while the audience held their collective breath to savour every moment of it.
There's a direct path into the concerto's finale, which commences with an intense invitation to the dance, followed by a playful second theme. Relishing these shifts of mood, Ms. Batiashvili sounded gorgeous in a deep-lyric interlude and brilliant in some decorative filigree that followed. On to the final sprint, where the fiery glow of the violinist's passionate playing swept all before her, igniting an ovation and delighted cries of "Brava!" as the entire audience rose to acknowledge Ms. Batiashvili's truly thrilling performance.
Lisa was called out for a solo bow - huge din of cheers and thunderous applause - then returned again with Maestro Gilbert, who signaled the wind soloists (who had made such distinctive impressions in the final movement) to rise. The mutual affection of violinist and conductor was movingly evidenced as they embraced and walked off together. But still the ovation would not subside, and the radiant soloist re-appeared for another solo bow, with her onstage colleagues joining the tribute and the audience getting gleefully boisterous.
During the course of the concerto, the marvelous rapport between Ms. Batiashvili and Maestro Gilbert was as endearing to the eye as their playing to the ear: as the music wove its spell, they seemed engaged in a pas de deux which swayed on the ebb and flow of Tchaikovsky's balletic score. Bravi!!
Enjoy a bit of Lisa's playing here.