London Philharmonic/Brabbins Lisa Batiashvili [Four Sea Interludes … Enigma Variations]

Peter Grimes – Four Sea Interludes [Dawn-Sunday Morning-Moonlight-Storm]
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 21 January, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

I may never hear Yuri Temirkanov conduct Elgar! I was unable to attend his previous London account of Enigma Variations – or, indeed, of Symphony No.1 (both with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) – so on the night I did make it, Temirkanov was indisposed! The versatile and always-well-prepared Martyn Brabbins replaced him.

Martyn Brabbins. Photograph: Sasha GusovElgar’s imperishable masterpiece had its slippery moments and sometimes was truer to the letter rather than the spirit of the score; yet ‘Nimrod’ (spaciously conceived) was particularly moving. The performance was a mix of teetering and something more inspirational (and including very sensitive cello, Susanne Beer, and clarinet, Robert Hill, solos along the way), but is it really Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage overture that the latter instrument quotes from in Variation XIII: ***? This is not an original thought on my part, rather I pass on an insight from a distinguished conductor (not least of Enigma) that the quotation is actually from Schumann’s Piano Concerto. (A deliberate red-herring on the part of Elgar?) Still, it was good to have the ad lib organ part in the work’s closing bars – and on the Royal Festival Hall’s own instrument (its full return keenly awaited) – even if this particular registration wasn’t quite deep enough and was slightly gaudy in sound, enough to potentially draw attention away from the more-important strings.

The concert opened with ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from Benjamin Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes”, given (appositely) as an indivisible whole: eerie and suspenseful to open, then a little cautious (any sense of alarm kept under wraps), then ‘Moonlight’ dragged albeit rising to an intensely expressive peak, and, finally, to an assaulting tempest that was also musically attentive and particularly poignant in the reflective (eye of the storm) section.

Lisa Batiashvili. Photograph: KasskaraLisa Batiashvili’s account of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto is tricky to call. For the most part she played superbly, the occasional souring of intonation aside (a consequence of over-squeezing the music’s juice), yet she was also just a little too objective at times and lacking variegation. Nevertheless there was a palpable tension set-up between Brabbins’s rather brooding approach and Batiashvili’s feistier (if considerate) manner. Whether they always met in the middle is another matter. Her account of the first-movement cadenza was a highpoint, but the Adagio seemed inert after a somewhat-introspective opening movement. The finale though was a joy – temperament and pacing at one, Brabbins drawing out woodwind detail sometimes passed over, and (not always the case) the closing bars were a triumph of unanimity.

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