Academic Festival Overture, Op.80
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 17 April, 2013
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
“The musicians of the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann would like to dedicate their two New York concerts at Carnegie Hall to the memory of Sir Colin Davis, who passed away on Sunday, April 14 at the age of 85. From 1981, Sir Colin had a very close and happy relationship with the Staatskapelle, and in 1990 was named the orchestra’s first and so far only conductor laureate.“
This Brahms program was the first of the two concerts at Carnegie Hall by the Staatskapelle and its principal conductor. Academic Festival Overture, written to commemorate the University of Breslau’s bestowal of an honorary doctorate on the composer, is a lushly orchestrated piece based on student songs. Christian Thielemann led an energized performance, minimizing dynamic extremes, and instead propelling the music forward towards a powerful conclusion, with the strings particularly appealing in their warmth.
Such energy continued in the introduction to the Violin Concerto. Lisa Batiashvili played with a consistently brilliant tone, and her performance was commendable for its superb sense of direction. The orchestra was perfectly clued-in to her intentions, with its responses a natural continuation of the sentences she had begun. Tempos were on the swift side throughout, making for an exciting performance, yet the music never felt rushed. Batiashvili created a wide emotional range, finding many colors within the timbre of her 1709 Engleman Stradivarius. She seemed to be taking risks, yet the rare fluffed note was an acceptable trade-off for the thrills. She eschewed the traditional cadenza by Joseph Joachim in favor of Ferruccio Busoni’s edgier one (which includes timpani and orchestral strings) that was well-suited to her style. The lyrical Adagio did not suffer from her lack of sweetness, instead continuing the conversation with the orchestra. She employed incisive spiccato bowing in the finale, and did not indulge the arpeggio passages. She only began to hold back in the coda’s triplet section, when the orchestra felt too heavy. The soloist’s final passage of thirds, taken quite slowly, was loaded with poignancy.
In Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, Thielemann elicited a dense sound from Staatskapelle Dresden. The musicians were seated very closely together creating a well-blended tone that sometimes lacked clarity. The first movement featured many passages of anticipatory suspense, contrasting with sections of highly intense passion. The strings’ lush sound was the orchestra’s greatest asset, the brass having a tendency to sound harsh and occasionally lacked precision. The Andante moderato second-movement was like chamber music given the consideration players had for each other. The tempo was on the move yet still had enough space to breathe. The brisk pace of the scherzo (Allegro giocoso) left the wind section rather breathless, and was saved by the strings’ well-shaped phrases. Thielemann continued to push the tempo in the passacaglia finale, occasionally leaving the violins to struggle for unanimous articulation, yet the structure was clearly molded, allowing for a glorious climax. The Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s Lohengrin was a rousing encore.