LSO/Temirkanov Lisa Batiashvili

Composition (30 January 2006) [LSO/UBS Sound Adventures commission: World premiere]
Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19
Symphony No.1

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov
Paul Watkins

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 7 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

James Olsen’s LSO/UBS commission is mysteriously titled Composition (30 January 2006). Was this perhaps the date of its completion, or maybe a subtle homage to our estimable Editor whose birthday it happens to be? Whatever its genesis, this was one of those occasional pieces which seem to have no real musical purpose. In its favour it was clearly written, memorable to a degree and Olsen has obviously attempted to create something original. Opening with a duet for cellos overlaid with abrasive interjections from oboes and bassoons (Olsen dispenses with flutes and clarinets) and featuring a prominent part for double basses, this ‘overture’ culminates in long string lines leading to the aural equivalent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. Quite what the youthful Olsen has to feel so stressed about is not clear. It received a performance of estimable clarity under the excellent Paul Watkins.

Prokofiev’s high-wire First Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili was another matter entirely. Yes, it would be possible to find fault with the degree of latitude Batiashvili allowed herself, occasionally pulling phrases around, but in this concerto where the soloist is seldom silent and the writing is frequently stratospheric, she has the priceless ability to compel attention. Sometimes this concerto is treated as a vehicle for display but from Batiashvili its emotional message was uppermost. Yuri Temirkanov and the LSO provided the most solicitous of backdrops.

The Mahler was a conundrum. This is one of the LSO’s ‘signature’ pieces ever since 1960s’ recordings with Solti and Horenstein. On this occasion there were many fine things – the very opening was beautifully poised, the double basses soft but present in the mix, and later in the movement there was a real frisson at the tuba’s entry, and Temirkanov’s instincts generally lead him the direction of taking his time which is surely right (the Ländler’s tempo was agreeably relaxed).

However, although Temirkanov can do detail beautifully, there was an absence of expansion and contraction, of building tensions over long spans, and this was particularly destructive in the outer movements, especially in the finale. This was certainly loud enough with a wonderful bass drum sounding like the crack of doom but the long string theme needed much greater inwardness and control of its ebb and flow in order to fulfil its structural purpose before the volcanic return of the movement’s opening.

Reservations aside, it was interesting to hear another ‘take’ on Mahler by a conductor who stands outside the tradition.

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