Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Haydn 85 & Sibelius 1 – Lisa Batiashvili plays Brahms

Symphony No.85 in B flat (La reine)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Paavo Järvi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 April, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Lisa Batiashvili. photo: www.lisabatiashvili.comThe set of ‘Paris’ Symphonies (82 to 87) is among Haydn’s finest achievements. If No.85 is not the most consistently inspired of them, it is certainly full of adorable invention and witty surprises. The queen nicknamed is Marie Antoinette: “La Reine de France” was engraved into the first publication of the score, perhaps an indication that she attended the Paris premiere. Paavo Järvi conducted a stylish and affectionate performance, aware of the music’s largesse, and enjoying its contrasts of moods and dynamics. The spring of the second movement was infectious and enjoyed a fluttering flute obbligato from Samuel Coles, while the Minuet, also marked Allegretto, was stealthy if still danceable, the Trio delightfully rustic and humorous … now, maestro Järvi, that’s what I call a pause! The finale, here an eager beaver, had plenty of spirit and played with admirable poise and togetherness; just as it appears we’re having an exposition repeat we find that we are in the rough and tumble of the development section; nothing parsimonious from Järvi, that was ‘Papa’ Haydn’s intention, always one step and a new idea ahead.

Paavo Järvi. photo: © Mark LyonsBrahms’s Violin Concerto has been doing the London rounds in recent weeks, from Nikolaj Znaider and Joshua Bell. This version with Lisa Batiashvili, attentively and warmly accompanied, was wholly inspiring. From her first entry Batiashvili was commanding, giving a generous and confiding account, as shapely as it was virtuosic, with rich unforced tone. Anyone expecting from the programme note, or only knowing, Joachim’s ‘standard’ first-movement cadenza (the Concerto was written for him) will have been taken aback by Batiashvili’s choice of Busoni’s somewhat ‘left field’ alternative, heralded and sustained by timpani and then with cellos, second violins (here to Järvi’s right) and firsts entering near its close to return us to Brahms’s score. It was good to hear a different cadenza (there are others written for the Brahms, not least a splendid one by Max Reger), although the Philharmonia might recall Gidon Kremer also bringing along the Busoni some years ago, when Dohnányi conducted. The slow movement, opened by Gordon Hunt’s mellifluous oboe solo, was a stream of consciousness from Batiashvili, ending raptly, and the finale was festive and foot-tapping.

The first of Sibelius’s seven symphonies is his most Slavic. Järvi’s conducting of it was uneven. He allowed or even encouraged the trumpets, trombones and tuba to be too loud, lacerating the ears and disfiguring tuttis, and Andrew Smith’s timpani playing, while typically accurate and rightly emphatic at times, was less appropriate elsewhere and bordered on the crude, as did some of the cymbal clashes. Still, the buck stops with any conductor and, in the scherzo’s outer sections, he alone was responsible for a tempo that was so speedy that it made the music gabbled, harried and ill-defined, however valiant the Philharmonia’s response. Otherwise, it was impressive, opening with Mark van de Wiel’s darkly foreboding yet alluring clarinet solo. Volume levels aside, Järvi conjured an impassioned and vivid performance, full of narrative power, which carried best the rather ramshackle ‘fantasia’ finale, from demonic drive to rapturous melody. The very end though, a sudden fade to nothing, was slack, but so was the conductor’s gesture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content