This week Angus McPherson takes a look at a performance by Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili on Deutsche Grammophon’s new DG Premium platform, new Australian concerts on ABC iView – including the Australian World Orchestra’s historic 2013 performance with Zubin Mehta – and takes a new classical music streaming site called Concert Roulette for a spin. 

Lisa Batiashvili plays Bartók
Lisa Batiashvili
Lisa Batiashvili. Photo © Sammy Hart/DG

Classical record label Deutsche Grammophon has released its own online platform, DG Premium, which offers for free (though you have to sign up) videos and recordings from its archive. There’s plenty to explore, from documentaries about Daniil Trifonov and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla to footage of Chinese maestro Long Yu conducting Carmina Burana at the Forbidden City for DG’s 120th anniversary concert, and DG has said they will be updating regularly.

A particular highlight is a performance of Bartók’s First Violin Concerto by Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, recorded from a concert in 2016 (the whole concert, which also includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No 13, Babi-Yar, is available on the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall for subscribers).

Batiashvili was out here giving a stunning performance of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2018 – she was “the true star of the evening”, Limelight’s Phillip Scott wrote.

She has been a frequent collaborator with Nézet-Séguin, who conducts this concert with the Berlin Phil – you can read her interview with Limelight’s Jo Litson about working with the conductor on the Prokofiev Concertos here.

This lyrical concerto was written in the first decade of the 20th century but wasn’t published until after Bartók’s death. It was dedicated to the violinist Stefi Geyer, for whom Bartók harboured some affection, but was consigned to the draw after Geyer rejected it. It was premiered in 1958 and was championed by the likes of David Oistrakh.

From the expansiveness of the opening solo to the work’s fierce pyrotechnics, this is a stellar performance from Batiashvili (not to mention some nice wind lines from the orchestra), who really brings out the lyricism of Bartók’s earlier music in fine melodic lines. Add in a cracker of an encore, and this is well worth a look. (For those wanting more of a Bartók fix, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Cameron Hill will be performing some as part of the ASO’s Virtual Concert Hall from May 27.)

Zubin Mehta conducts the Australian World Orchestra
Zubin Mehta conducting the AWO in 2013

ABC iView is continuing to roll out video footage of Australian performances, with a growing library of content that includes performances by Pinchgut Opera, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and much more. Newly added to the collection is Zubin Mehta’s 2013 performance with the Australian World Orchestra in Melbourne, conducting Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Mahler’s First Symphony.

Launched in 2011 with a concert conducted by Simone Young and bringing together Australian musicians from all over the world, the AWO has gone from strength the strength, attracting superstar international conductors including Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle (his Bruckner with the AWO is also up on iView) and more recently Riccardo Muti. Mehta was the first of the non-Australian conductors to lead the band, and the 2013 concerts were also, it transpired, Mehta’s final performances in Australia, with his scheduled 2019 tour with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra cancelled (he did, however, conduct the AWO again in 2015 on a tour of India).

With its brilliant solo lines, The Rite of Spring offers plenty of opportunities for musicians across the orchestra to shine, and the orchestra delivers the crunching rhythms with panache – the audience may not have ‘rioted’ in this performance, but you can sense their excitement in the video.

Mehta brings to the Rite “a visceral, exhilarating energy combined with crystal clarity,” wrote Steve Moffatt reviewing the performance in the Sydney Opera House. “His rostrum manner is precise but unfussy. Conducting from memory he conveys the sense that the music is the thing. And what a rich opportunity this work provides for an orchestra to lay out its wares.”

“From the opening bassoon solo the woodwind section has a field day,” he wrote. “The twin timpanists gave the Dance of the Earth section a deeply satisfying air of menace.”

Both Moffatt and Greg Keane – who reviewed the recording of this performance on ABC Classic – noted the exceptional string sound Mehta drew from the orchestra in the Mahler. “The fourth movement – an ironic funeral march for a hunter accompanied by the animals he intended to shoot to the tune of Frère Jacques played in a minor key in the central section – Kurt Weill meets klezma – lacked the last ounce of sleaze,” wrote Keane. “But the prodigious finale, where I always think the lush string passages contains the germ of Hollywood film scores, sounded absolutely glorious.”

If you’re still craving more Mahler after this, ABC iView has also released the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony, conducted by Asher Fisch, whose “mastery of both the work’s massive architecture and its often exquisite minutiae was nothing short of miraculous,” wrote Will Yeoman.

Concert Roulette
Concert Roulette
Concert Roulette

If you’re looking for something a little bit different – or in a world saturated in free content you find yourself suffering from what’s been dubbed ‘decision fatigue’ – why not let fate decide your listening pleasure? The UK’s Alternative Classical has created a jukebox of concerts they’ve dubbed Concert Roulette. Launched at the end of April to engage audiences with classical music during the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform features more than 200 high-definition YouTube videos, hand curated by the Alternative Classical team. You can choose to filter the random selections based on your musical preferences – Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century or Contemporary – or just go wild and select All. A quick spin took me from Bach Collegium San Diego playing Rameau to Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Mendelssohn and The King’s Singers performing an a cappella version of Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. The concerts vary in length as well, ranging from the snappy, encore-length William Tell to the solid hour and a half of Myung-Whun Chung conducting the Concertgebouworkest in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at the Elbphilharmonie. A fun way to find something different.