Brahms: Violin Concerto (Batiashvili, Dreden/Thielemann)

Batting for Brahms – this is Batiashvili's Brahms, if not quite Thielemann's.

Brahms wrote his Violin Concerto in 1878 for his friend and frequent inspiration Joseph Joachim, whose collaborative advice was sought, if not always taken. The work went from four movements down to three and was eventually premiered by Joachim in a concert coupled with the Beethoven concerto – “A lot of D Major and not much else on the program,” opined Brahms at the time. Critical reaction was mixed, with the long first movement singled out as particularly problematic, but the work now ranks as one of the four great concerti for the instrument.

If you were lucky enough to catch Lisa Batiasvili playing the work in Sydney last year, then the release of this CD will probably have been on your radar for the last few months. The gifted violinist from Tbilisi has been making the work very much her own in recent years and here are the fruits – played on Joachim’s own violin, no less!

With Batiasvili, tone and technique go hand in hand; particularly useful in that 20-minute first movement. This is ravishing playing, teasing out Brahms’ long lines into silken threads. Every nuance is captured but the giant melodic arc is never under threat. There’s enormous inner feeling here too, with some daring quiet passagework and moments of intense reflection. She’s rock steady in the rapid figurations and carries off the tricky Busoni cadenza with aplomb. The slow movement is a profound meditation with a real sense of soloist duetting with orchestra. The finale has plenty of fire in its belly and Batiashvili produces a suitably meaty tone.

Her partners are the Statskapelle Dresden under chief conductor Christian Thielemann. The orchestra have this music in their blood and play with perfect control, but not everything in the garden is rosy. The pacing is fine, often exciting, but Thielemann occasionally lacks gravitas in supporting passages and sometimes falls short of required weight in the big orchestral tuttis.

The recording doesn’t help, with its resonant, churchy sound. The orchestra feels like it’s placed too far back with the soloist sometimes in a different acoustic. Instrumental details are too often muddied and the bass sound is slightly woolly. A great pity, as Batiashvili’s is a performance to return to. One other grumble: with only three slight Clara Schumann chamber pieces as counterweights, the CD weighs in at a measly 47 minutes.

Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the April 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine.

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Brahms: Violin Concerto (Batiashvili, Dreden/Thielemann)
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4 out of 5
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Deutsche Grammophon
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