CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Lisa Batiashvili and the Finns

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Sibelius and Lindberg, Violin Concertos, Lisa Batiashvili, Finnish RSO, S. Oramo
(released on October 2, 2007)

available at Amazon
Brahms, Bach, Schubert
We have not yet reviewed Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili at Ionarts, although she did appear with the National Symphony Orchestra in March 2005 (playing the Brahms concerto -- I was in Rome). The third star student of Prof. Ana Chumachenko in Munich (along with Julia Fischer and Arabella Steinbacher), she was the youngest competitor (at age 16 in 1995) in the Sibelius Competition in Helsinki, where she won second prize. This year Batiashvili has signed on as a Sony artist, after releasing one recording with EMI a few years ago (when she styled herself as Elisabeth Batiashvili).

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


Anonymous said...

Charles, great to hear about this recording. I also wrote a review of the premiere for MusicWeb, here:

Charles T. Downey said...

Bruce, thanks for that. I am glad to get to read your review, which I missed.

Anonymous said...

Nice writeup of a fine disc. You're right on the money with the sudden ubiquity of the Sibelius concerto: I'll be hearing Znaider do it with the New York Philharmonic next week, and Steinbacher with the Chicago Symphony two weeks later, both conducted by Dohnányi.

Evan Tucker said...

Batiashvilli played the Sibelius concerto in DC a couple years ago with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Dohnanyi. I was there. Sadly I mostly remember it because one of her strings broke in the middle of the cadenza, which sent audible gasps throughout the audience as she went backstage to restring. But the same concert had Dohnanyi doing an absolutely stunning Brahms 1.

jfl said...

Ah, this reminds me I was supposed to be in Chicago for Steinbacher's concert. Alas, that won't happen. Drats. I'd expect her Sibelius to come from earth's innards, rather than being a silvery-dainty atmospheric performance. [Sigh]

Even I'm surprised by how many Sibeliusses we have had in the region, despite seemingly having missed none of them. I do remember, however, seeing the BSO's schedule and stopping at Carney tackling that concerto. With all due respect... uh well... maybe he'll surprise us.

Charles T. Downey said...

Musicalbloviator, that would be October 18, 2003, and she was still calling herself Elisabeth then. I had just gotten back from a trip to Paris at that time and missed that concert. Anyway, that goes back a long time in blog years, when this site was known as Ye Olde Blogge.

Charles T. Downey said...

Steve, thanks for the kind words. You know, of all the violin concertos that might possibly be overplayed, the Sibelius is one I don't mind at all, as long as the violinist is up to the task.

Garth Trinkl said...

"Which brave conductor and orchestra will bring [Ms.Batiashvili] to the Washington region to play this enigmatic and spectrally beautiful piece [Lindberg's Violin Concerto]?"


Charles, I believe that you are forgetting the role of presenting organizations in the fostering of important Washington premieres.
Organizations such as WPAS can choose to O.K. contemporary repertoire, as they did when allowing Gidon Kremer to perform the Philip Glass violin concerto; or they can veto programming options, as when the same WPAS refused to allow the Chicago Symphony to perform the Carter Partita, in an otherwise exact same program as performed by the Chicago at Carnegie Hall (sans the Carter -- Washington instead got a Strauss Waltz as an encore).

I nominate Ivan Fischer and the NSO (perhaps with artistic direction from the NSO's Director of Artistic Planning Nigel Boon) to invite Ms. Batiashvili to perform the Lindberg in Washington; or the WPAS; or the Library of Congress (given that the Lindberg work is for 'classical' orchestra scoring).

Evan Tucker said...


No offense meant to Herbig, he's a great under-rated conductor. But if there's a week of the BSO that you can skip, I would imagine that that would be it.

jfl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.