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Sibelius and Lindberg, Violin Concertos, Lisa Batiashvili, Finnish RSO, S. Oramo (released on October 2, 2007)
Brahms, Bach, Schubert (2001)
Given Batiashvili's history with Sibelius, it is hardly surprising that her first recording for Sony leads with the Finnish composer's daunting violin concerto. In spite of the work's many technical challenges it has become a popular vehicle to establish virtuosic bona fides. Within the recent past in the Washington area alone, it has been programmed a surprising number of times: Leonidas Kavikos with the National Symphony (March 2007, under Osmo Vänskä), Sarah Chang with the London Philharmonic (December 2006, under Kurt Masur), Sergey Khachatryan with the Baltimore Symphony (March 2006), and Ryo Goto also with the NSO (November 2005). In spite of that impressive and overloaded history, Jonathan Carney (concertmaster of the BSO) will attempt the Sibelius concerto next month (November 8 and 9, under Günther Herbig).
Batiashvili's Sibelius concerto is alternately quicksilver and gloomily introverted. The crucial unaccompanied moments are captured in gorgeous sound from her 1709 "Engleman" Stradivarius (on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation). The most striking passages are the diabolically difficult harmonics in the third movement, which shimmer like ice dappled by sun. Sakari Oramo leads the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a supportive and strong performance. Still, by itself, the Sibelius would not merit a strong recommendation over a host of competition (taking into consideration the merits and disadvantages of a live recording).
What demands recognition is the other half of this disc, the world premiere recording of Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto, written for Batiashvili and premiered by her in 2006 at, of all places, the Mostly Mozart Festival (reviewed by Allan Kozinn). Although Batiashvili has said publicly that the New York premiere did not come together optimally, she continued to play the Lindberg concerto, and this recording contains the extraordinary results of another year of living with the score. The piece weaves together a host of sounds and styles, both unswervingly modern and looking backwards to Sibelius. Although restricted to strings and pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns, Lindberg creates an impressive range of textures. Batiashvili plays with ferocious technique and a searing and accurate E string sound, as the solo part soars into the stratosphere. Which brave conductor and orchestra will bring her to the Washington region to play this enigmatic and spectrally beautiful piece?
Sony Classical 88697129362