Saturday October 11th, 2014 - My friend Dmitry and I are great admirers of violinist Lisa Batiashvili. In the past two seasons at The New York Philharmonic, she and Alan Gilbert have made remarkable music together in concertos by Shostakovich and Prokofiev. This season, Ms. Batiashvili is the Philharmonic's Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence, and so she will be with us often in the coming months, playing Barber, Bach, and a new concerto by Thierry Escaich (for the last two she teams up with her husband, oboist François Leleux). We're so keen on Ms. Batiashvili that she is a primary reason we've taken out a subscription for the Great Performers at Lincoln Center series: her Alice Tully Hall recital will be on March 30th, 2015, with Paul Lewis at the piano.
Tonight's concert opened with Thunderstuck, a new work by the Philharmonic's composer-in-residence, Christopher Rouse. Listening to the percussionists warming up for this piece, I envisioned dancing in the aisles. When played by the full orchestra - it calls for a very large contingent of musicians - it reminded me more of the big band era than of rock n' roll. It would in fact make a perfect overture for a Broadway show about the history of American music. The Philharmonic musicians of course played the hell out of it.
Haydn's Symphony No. 103, always referred to as the Drumroll, received a graciously-paced reading from Maestro Gilbert. Joseph Haydn was at the peak of his London popularity when the Drumroll premiered in 1795, drawing this review in the Morning Chronicle reported: "Another new Overture [as a symphony was then called in England] by the fertile and enchanting Haydn was performed, which as usual, had strokes of genius, both in air [melody] and harmony. The Introduction excited the deepest attention, the Allegro charmed, the Andante was encored, the Minuet...was playful and sweet, and the last movement was equal, if not superior, to the preceding."
Tonight 's performance by the Philharmonic didn't include an encore of the Andante, but that movement was of particular charm this evening for it featured a lovely melodic passage played by acting concertmaster Sheryl Staples.
After the intermission, Ms. Batiashvili appeared in a silhouette gown of deep grey shot thru with crystalline beading. Her lithe figure and elegant posture always evoke images of a prima ballerina, and indeed there are many times in a Lisa Batiashvili/Alan Gilbert performance when they seem to be dancing a pas de deux; such is the nature of their rapport.
The Brahms violin concerto, which premiered in 1879, demands both great virtuosity and subtle finesse from the player. It suits Ms. Batiashvili to perfection, and as she summoned up the familiar melodies and lingered on hypnotic trills, we were drawn deeply into her artistic realm.
The tradition of a cadenza near the end of the first movement of a concerto sets up an unusual situation with the Brahms, since there at least sixteen known cadenzas that a soloist may choose from. Ms. Batiashvili played a cadenza published by the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni in 1913, and it showed her technical mastery in full flourish. In Busoni's unusual concept, the timpani reverberates gently throughout the cadenza.
In the opening moments of the concerto's Adagio, there's a lovely passage for solo oboe, immaculately played by the Philharmonic Liang Wang. Ms. Batiashvili then takes up the musical thread, treating us to some of her most silken, refined playing before launching into the exulting themes of the final Allegro giocoso.
The packed house greeted Ms. Batiashvili with a resounding ovation. It's going to be a great residency.
(I borrowed the onstage photo from the NY Phil's Facebook page)