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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Visions of Prokofiev
Dance of the Knights (from Romeo and Juliet, Op 64) [3:46]
arr, for solo violin and orchestra by Tamás Batiashvili
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op 19 (1917) [22:48]
Grand Waltz (from Cinderella, Op 87) [5:19]
arr, for solo violin and orchestra by Tamás Batiashvili
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op 63 (1935) [26:19]
Grand March (from The Love for Three Oranges, Op 33) [1:37]
arr, for solo violin and orchestra by Tamás Batiashvili
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. 2017, Auditorium Saint-Pierre des Cuisines; 2015, Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden (Concerto No 1)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 8529 [59:49]

Lisa Batiashvili has already won praise from colleagues of mine for several of her previous discs, including a coupling of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos (review); the Brahms concerto (review); and a disc that included the Shostakovich First concerto (review). I only looked out these reviews once I had finished my appraisal of this latest Prokofiev disc but, leafing through my colleagues’ thoughts, I see that a common thread is the beauty of Miss Batiashvili’s playing. That’s a definite feature of her Prokofiev performances.

I really enjoyed the account of the First concerto. Looking back on my notes I see that words like “refinement” and “sensitive” recur several times – and they describe the orchestral contribution as well as the solo performance. The concerto gets off to the most promising start. The ruminative opening really catches the attention: the orchestra is hushed and the soloist spins a silvery thread of sound. I find Batiashvili’s way with this first movement highly persuasive. Her intonation is absolutely secure, as you’d expect at this level, and she characterises the music very well. Often her playing is delicate but there’s a touch of steel when required. Nézet-Séguin secures a marvellous response from the CoE and nowhere more so than in the very brief passage (7:25-7:48) where the breathtakingly hushed strings prepare the way for the soloist to reprise, with great finesse, the opening material. From this point to the end of the movement the music-making is bewitching. The mercurial second movement flashes by; we hear a pinpoint performance. In the finale Lisa Batiashvili responds especially well to Prokofiev’s lyrical vein and the orchestra is just as sensitive. At 6:33 Prokofiev recalls the work’s opening theme, softly trilled by the solo violin against a gossamer light orchestral background. This ushers in a rendition of the closing pages which is absolutely magical. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard such a refined performance of this concerto.

The Second concerto is no less successful. Refinement is once again to the fore in the first movement though Miss Batiashvili is not slow to seize on the virtuoso opportunities. The principal theme of the Andantino is most enticingly sung by Batiashvili and the section is beautifully unfolded by her and the orchestra. The Allegretto section (from 4:38) is light on its feet and spirited but even so it’s a delight to return (at 6:32) to the Andantino. The finale is spiky and mobile.

Around these highly successful concerto performances are placed three arrangements of well-known Prokofiev pieces by Lisa Batiashvili’s father, Tamás. I think these work extremely well. In the dance from Romeo and Juliet the famous syncopated melody is given to the soloist and later, in the more tranquil central episode, the variant that is usually heard on the flute transfers to the violin very well, Incidentally, in the outer sections of this number the CoE’s bass drum makes a splendid contribution. The Waltz from Cinderella is given quite a tart flavour by the prominent line for the solo violin and here Batiashvili deploys a fairly edgy tone to excellent effect. The programme closes in swaggering style with the March from The Love for Three Oranges. As I say, I think these arrangements work very well but, more than that, each is perfectly positioned in the programme as a whole: the Romeo and Juliet piece, for instance, makes an ear-catching opener.

So, this is a disc that contains excellent Prokofiev performances. Lisa Batiashvili consistently drew me in to the music and the support she gets from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Yannick Nézet-Séguin is outstanding. The DG engineers have done the musicians proud by capturing the performances in excellent sound. The soloist is given just the right degree of prominence but not to such an extent as to impede one’s appreciation of the fine orchestral contribution. Sadly, as so often these days with what were once the major labels, the notes are a disappointment. Anselm Cybinski concentrates rather too much on the artists at the expense of making any significant comment on the music itself. My advice would be to skip the notes and to focus on the classy performances.

John Quinn



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