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Beethoven, Sibelius : Lisa Batiashvili (violin), Osmo Vänskä (conductor), Minnesota Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York, 28.2.2011 (BH)

: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 (1806)

Sibelius : Symphony No. 6, Op. 104 (1923)

Sibelius : Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105 (1924)

During this relatively traditional concert at Carnegie Hall—at least, on paper—I would never have expected the ghost of composer Alfred Schnittke to make an appearance. Yet in this fascinating traversal of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, Lisa Batiashvili unleashed two Schnittke cadenzas, which offered powerful alternatives to those by say, Fritz Kreisler. In the first movement, Ms. Batiashvili (in a long, copper-colored dress flashing a bit of knee), was able to project beautifully, even in moments where she adopted a very soft dynamic, and her intonation was a joy. Vänskä and the orchestra offered warm, even plush support. The first Schnittke cadenza sputters, hesitates, adds dissonance and double-stops; his suggestions put the rest of the movement in high relief, one innovator commenting on another. Were he alive today, Beethoven probably would have been delighted.

The Larghetto unfurled like a tender love letter, with conductor and orchestra gently following the soloist's lead. The finale was taken not too fast, skipping along delightfully, with Batiashvili engaging in some lovely interplay with her violinist colleagues. This time, Schnittke included moments for violin and timpani—a striking touch, and deftly executed. (NB: Gidon Kremer has used these cadenzas on his recording.)

Two relatively rare Sibelius symphonies completed the program, and among today's conductors of this literature, it would be difficult to think of one more authoritative than Vänskä. ( He and the Minnesotans are recording the entire cycle.) In uncertain hands, the Sixth can seem puzzling, with its lighter-than-air textures, constant activity, and unexpected contrasts. The shimmering ache of the opening movement crests with a brass-tinged peak, before diving back down to end with a whispering, scurrying flourish. Dazzling rivulets in the second "allegretto" come to a sudden, hymn-like close. Some sublime passages for the winds are the main delight in the third movement, where a short motif is repeated, swept up in little eddies of sound-all of which the ensemble executed with masterful precision. And the finale has moments of stirring intensity, before gradually retreating into silence.

But despite the fascinations of the Sixth, it is the Seventh that shows the apex of Sibelius's talent: a single movement in which each phrase seems inexorably interlocked with those before and after. Hearing it feels like hearing evolution-like watching cells endlessly divide, generating new life at each turn. In the notes, Robert Markow calls it "organic unity," and it is hard to imagine a work that seems to be continually showing different sides of itself, each moment spawning a host of others. It takes a special conductor to make this piece display its unique motion, and here Vänskä and these fabulous musicians created something quite special, capturing a sense of timeless regeneration. I can't wait to hear their recording.

Bruce Hodges

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