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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (1878) [38:04]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Three Romances For Violin And Piano, Op.22 [9:26]
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
Alice Sara Ott (piano) (Romances)
rec. June 2012 Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany (Concerto); October 2012 Musikstudios, Munich, Germany (Romances)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 0086 [47:31]

For her second Deutsche Grammophon release Lisa Batiashvili has chosen to record the Brahms Violin Concerto and the Three Romances by Clara Schumann. I enjoyed Batiashvili’s 2011 debut release for DG entitled ‘Echoes of Time’ a fascinating part-concert and part-recital of Shostakovich, Kancheli, Pärt and Rachmaninov - all composers heavily influenced by political events in the former Soviet Union. The disc features Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and the Lyrical Waltz from his Seven Doll’s Dances and with the Kancheli piece Batiashvili is playing with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Esa-Pekka Salonen. In the Pärt and Rachmaninov she is accompanied by Hélène Grimaud.
Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Batiashvili is an exceptionally fine player whose work certainly merits attention. I last saw live in May 2011 playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto accompanied by a rather off-colour New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert at the Munich Philharmonie. In a slightly underpowered performance there remained an appealing, highly cultured quality to her playing. I remember the 1709 ‘Engleman’ Stradivarius that she was using at the time delivering a most beautiful tone.
The feature work on Batiashvili’s latest Deutsche Grammophon release is the Brahms Violin Concerto accompanied by the expert playing of the eminent Staatskapelle Dresden under their chief conductor Christian Thielemann. A key work of the repertoire, the Brahms Concerto was written in 1878 largely in the Austrian lakeside town of Pörtschach am Wörthersee. On hand to provide expert guidance was Brahms’ friend the eminent violinist Joseph Joachim. It was the dedicatee Joachim who premiered the score on New Year’s Day in 1879 at Leipzig. I find the score one of the most glorious of all the violin concertos in the repertoire, an almost perfect creation of classical form, deep emotional content and memorable lyricism.
In the massive opening movement Allegro non troppo, Batiashvili’s approach is a reasonably passionate one playing with an abundance of spirit. Ideally I would have preferred more weight and potency from the soloist. In the final passage of the movement the playing confidently increases in intensity to create a moving highpoint. Revelling in the unalloyed lyricism of the beautiful Adagio Batiashvili, with achingly lyrical playing, is careful not to allow the mood to become sentimental. An additional degree of emotional tension would have assisted the quality of the interpretation. In the squally and exciting writing of the Finale wonderfully vibrant playing from both soloist and orchestra caps a high quality performance.
Batiashvili’s Brahms is beautifully played and makes rewarding listening but this is a most crowded catalogue and any new recording has to compete with a substantial number of excellent accounts. I have a number of versions that I feel are more recommendable. Standing out is Nathan Milstein for his commanding and compellingly inspired playing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under William Steinberg. Recorded at Pittsburgh in 1953/54 Milstein’s account is available as one of the ‘Great Recordings of the Century’ on EMI Classics 5 67583 2 (c/w Beethoven Violin Concerto). Then there is the recording from Pinchas Zukerman with the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim. This deeply passionate and highly controlled 1979 Paris performance is on Deutsche Grammophon ‘Classikon’ 439 405-2. There is also much to admire in the 1955 Chicago recording from Jascha Heifetz with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. This characterful and searching performance I have on RCA Victor Red Seal 09026 61742 2. In addition there is the glorious account from the teenage Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan. It has real gravitas. I have this 1981 Berlin Philharmonie account from Deutsche Grammophon 445 515-2 (c/w Mendelssohn Violin Concerto) and also on Deutsche Grammophon 439 007-2 (Brahms Double Concerto with cellist Antonio Meneses).
Clara Schumann wrote her three Romances for violin and piano, Op.22 following a considerable break from composing. After the score was published she presented Joachim with a printed copy. I was delighted to have the rare opportunity of hearing these three short Romances with Batiashvili accompanied by Munich born pianist Alice Sara Ott. The first two marked Andante moto and Allegretto are lovingly tender expressions of affection. The lyrical final piece marked Leidenschaftlich schnell is so lively yet still evinces a tender quality.
Batiashvili plays her 1715Ex JoachimStradivarius. It once belonged to Joachim and according to the booklet notes was the instrument that the great virtuoso played when he performed both the Brahms Concerto and the Clara Schumann Romances. Her excellent playing and immaculate intonation makes for a highly satisfying performance and demonstrates her status as one of the finest of the young crop of violin soloists currently on the international concert stage. As I have come to expect, the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann provide the finest imaginable support. In the Clara Schumann Romances Alice Sara Ott demonstrates what a fine recital pianist she has become. The sound quality from the Lukaskirche, Dresden and the Musikstudios, Munich is satisfyingly clear and well balanced.
Michael Cookson