Georgian violinist Elisabeth Batiashvili
is building up an enviable reputation for herself, and her collaboration
with the ever-musical Steven Osborne is clearly a fruitful one. No punches
pulled in the programme here; instead the audience was treated to three
major works by three major composers. Short timing, certainly, but in
terms of sheer demands on musicality, this was heavy going.
Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor
(1916/7) was his last work and, as a representative of late Debussy,
has an elusive streak to it which is notoriously difficult to capture.
This makes it even trickier as the very first piece in a recital programme,
yet Batiashvili and Osborne went straight to the heart of the matter.
The only signs of any type of easing-in were some moments of hardening
of Batiashvili’s tone in forte, but that aside her sound was
in general very beautiful (she plays the 1709 Engleman Stradivarius).
Her technique was quite remarkable, as was Osborne’s, whose big sound
and beautiful weighting of sonorities was particularly praiseworthy
(he also played the piano part in the capricious ‘Intermède’
as if it was first cousin to the ‘Minstrels’ Prélude).
An uncompromising beginning, then, which forced the audience into deep
and respectful concentration (the standard of performance demanded nothing
Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata
in F minor, Op. 80 (1938-46), a work dedicated to David Oistrakh, is
no less serious. The rapport that had been so aurally clear between
Batiashvili and Osborne in the Debussy transformed into true telepathy
here. What was perhaps most noteworthy about this performance was its
ability to follow Prokofiev’s shifting moods in such a chameleon fashion.
Thus, Osborne’s ominous opening tread set the scene for Batiashvili’s
deep and throaty entrance; but the delicate passages were no less remarkable
for the purity of Osborne’s chords against Batiashvili’s ghostly scales.
For the Allegro brusco, Osborne unleashed an impressive depth of sound
for this manifestation of Prokofiev’s relentless side (the thought crossed
my mind – strongly – that Osborne should be turning his attention to
Prokofiev’s solo piano sonatas sooner rather than later). This movement
formed the perfect contrast to the Prokofievian peace of the Andante,
itself a foil for the out-and-out virtuosity of the Alegrissimo finale.
Only something as meaty as the
Brahms D minor Sonata could counterbalance a first half such as this,
and the programming worked perfectly. The gritty determination of the
youth of both players coupled with interpretative maturity beyond their
years meant that they had the tools to imbue the very opening with a
pure, simple energy: this was the beginning of a long emotional journey.
Osborne kept the textures clean and clear (as he did throughout – no
easy matter where the Brahms violin sonatas are concerned). Although
the Adagio was highly expressive (Batiashvili’s deep tone coming once
more to the fore), the Scherzo displayed an astonishingly light touch
from both players, passages positively tumbling over one another, a
testament to their youthful spirit. All of the first three movements
seemed to lead inevitably to the eruption of sheer power that was the
finale, the sound as large and impressive as one could desire.
This concert was recorded by Radio
3 for broadcast on June 19.