October 8, 2004

Berlin Phil and Batiashvili with glowing Beethoven and satisfying Nielsen


Jean Sibelius
Aallottaret, op. 73

Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61

Carl Nielsen
Symphony No. 5 op. 50


Berliner Philharmoniker
Osmo Vänskä - Conductor

Elisabeth Batiashvili - Violin

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Berlin Phil and Batiashvili with glowing Beethoven and satisfying Nielsen

by Nancy Chapple / Photo: Mark Harrison/BBC Music Magazine

The evening kicked off with Sibelius' symphonic poem Aallottaret, op. 73, serving the classic purpose of an overture: reminding the audience they're supposed to be quiet in a concert hall, getting us in the mood to absorb the great works to follow. This was Osmo Vänskä's first appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic, and it seemed they were testing him, challenging him to engage them and draw them out. The most impressive moment in the short mood piece was a very active line in the celli with repeated notes and dynamic swells, where they created a lush and expressive sound.

Elisabeth Batiashvili

The orchestra was better attuned to Vänskä in the Beethoven Violin Concerto - though it was completely violinist Lisa Batiashvili's show. Now 25, she has been working with the conductor for the past 7 years; they performed the Beethoven concerto at her much lauded 2001 début at the Proms. The orchestra presented a solid D-major texture in a fairly slow Allegro ma non troppo. The thematic material is simple - but what Batiashvili is able to do with a simple arpeggiated seventh chord felt intrinsically right in its timing. The development simply modulates through the circle of fifths - but this was no trite harmonic exercise here. She seemed to improvise the slow Larghetto, each offbeat entrance winding around the melody in the other instruments. In the first movement, the orchestra's violin section leaned in towards her, watching her every move; in the second, it was the silent winds and brass who seemed just as much caught in her spell as the audience. After her command of pure poured gold sound in the first movement, and her mesmerizing command of tone and tempo in the second, it was a pleasant surprise to discover in the Rondo that she can also lead from the front with rhythmic bite and drive. Beyond perfect intonation and beautiful sound, she seems to understand instinctively what the work can tell us.

The orchestra was certainly with the soloist all the way through the Beethoven, playing in tune and on time, but they were a bit lackluster. With Nielsen's 5th Symphony, they finally shook that off. The first movement opens with a lively storytelling atmosphere, instrumental groups in dialogue. Vänskä seemed at home in the material - and the orchestra finally willing to show their stuff. (Between the two movements, my neighbor whispered to me, "well, now they finally sound good!") The movement's second half, the Adagio non troppo, felt quite different: we sloshed from one key to the next, as in a boat where the water occasionally swashes over the side - not sloppy, just on the move. The recurrent solo in the snare drum brought us back to order. The strings had mastered the virtuosic second movement: totally on top of the sound despite chromaticism and big jumps in a fast-moving melodic line. The flutes also stood out in the final fughetta.

Though nothing could rival the uncounted solo bows Batiashvili took after the Beethoven, graciously applauding the orchestra and smiling broadly before acknowledging the audience, the evening ended on a round and satisfying note.

(This review originally appeared at www.classicstoday.com)