Minnesota Orchestra/Vänskä in New York [Sibelius 6 & 7 … Lisa Batiashvili plays Beethoven’s Violin Concerto]

Beethoven
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Sibelius
Symphony No.6 in D minor, Op.104
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä


Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 28 February, 2011
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Lisa Batiashvili. Photograph: KasskaraBeethoven’s Violin Concerto is not a showy piece, which perhaps explains its initial unpopularity at its premiere in 1806, during an age of virtuoso concertos. This is not to say that the work is easy to pull off. Its many passages of simple scales and arpeggios rely on the soloist to have extremely sensitive and deliberate phrasing in order to allow this masterpiece to show its true colors. Lisa Batiashvili displayed confidence from the very first solo passage, taking her time with the rising arpeggio. She did not shy away from using portamento to highlight the music’s Romantic nature, but kept its use to a minimum. Her bright and varied tone commanded attention with even the softest of trills. She took certain passages at an unusually slow tempo, which could easily have spelled disaster in the hands of a lesser musician, yet she managed to shape the longest of lines with a foresight that spun the simple melodies to lengths of breathtaking beauty. In the finale, she managed the perfect balance between levity and seriousness, and in faster passages the focus was always on the phrase. She played Alfred Schnittke’s delightfully humorous cadenzas, which quote from violin concertos by Shostakovich, Bartók, and Brahms, and in which orchestral strings and timpani participate. Osmo Vänskä offered a conscientious and passionate accompaniment. The bright and warm violin section complimented Batiashvili’s tone wonderfully, and the vast dynamic- and mood-changes brought out the work’s dramatic side to the utmost.

Osmo VänskäSibelius’s oddly structured Sixth Symphony, free from any notion of sonata form, allows the listener to create personal imagery. To some, the frequent use of the Dorian mode is reminiscent of a medieval church, or dominance of upper strings in the opening movement creates a pastoral landscape. The Minnesota Orchestra’s outstanding strings were rich and intense, and frequently drowned out the outer sections. In the second movement, the opening wind solos sounded overly cautious and precise. Vänskä did not hold back in any of the crescendos in the final movement, and with this lack of gradation they lost importance. The passion was unrelenting, and the musical sauna was all fire and no ice. Within the single movement of Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony, there is a density of spirit, as vast and rewarding as a Mahler symphony, relayed in a quarter of the time. Here, Vänskä seemed in better control of the regulation of intensity, and phrasing advanced in a natural arc. Although the strings were glorious in their longing intensity, they again drowned out the winds. The horns were a real let-down in their lack of force, and the orchestra sounded too top-heavy with only seven double basses. Sibelius’s Valse triste was offered as an encore, the strings managing the softest of pianissimos without losing any of their beautiful color.

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