New York Philharmonic/Gilbert [Eroica Symphony … Lisa Batiashvili plays Bartók]

Violin Concerto No.2
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 6 May, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Lisa Batiashvili. Photograph: KasskaraBartók’s Violin Concerto No.2 was long known as the (as in only) such work. After the composer’s death, the unpublished score of an earlier violin concerto was discovered, written for Stefi Geyer, with whom the composer was infatuated, and he likely distanced himself from the work due to its personal associations. The Second Violin Concerto was written for Bartók’s friend Zoltán Székely, who asked for a full-blown concerto, not the set of variations the composer suggested. Both men got their wish as the concerto’s second movement is a set of variations, and the finale is a free variation of the first movement.

Lisa Batiashvili brought a confident, big sound to the opening. Her tone remained bright throughout the first movement, cutting through the New York Philharmonic like a laser. She exaggerated the tempos, yet in the briskly taken faster sections she never lost clarity of articulation, but because she continuously kept the intensity level so high, she had no room to create the climax of the final iteration of the theme. Yet the fervent nature of the piece calls for such drama, which was notably lacking in the orchestra. Whenever the theme was passed its way, the excitement level dropped conspicuously. Batiashvili changed her timbre considerably in the second movement. Her biggest asset as a performer is the sense of ease she brings. She naturally created long phrases with invisible changes of bow. She threw herself into the fiery finale, with a return to tonal brilliance that always remained beautiful.

Alan Gilbert. Photograph: Chris LeeBeethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon. The composer famously destroyed the work’s title page when his pupil Ferdinand Ries informed him that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor. The grand scale of the symphony, the longest written at the time, still suited its new title of Sinfonia eroica. Alan Gilbert brought occasional moments of heroic triumph to the performance, but these were few and far between. After a promising start, the energy level soon waned. Gilbert’s literal interpretation offered little in the way of shaping of phrases. The large violin section dominated the orchestra, and drowned out all the woodwind solos. The second-movement funeral-march was less about tragedy and nobility and more about the leeching of life. The wonderful fugal section was dead on arrival, with each heavy-handed note punched out robotically. The lovely light-natured start to the scherzo was lost as soon as the volume became louder. The finale was less uptight and more successful, although there were emergences of tedium mid-movement. Fortunately, inspiration returned in the coda, but not enough for a truly happy ending.

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