Visions of Prokofiev
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
Lisa Batiashvili has always been fascinated by Prokofiev’s ability to represent every emotion and feeling with straightforward clarity and his closeness to ballet and theatre in his early works has been a source of amazement for her. To give prominence to this feature, Batiashvili performs in Visions of Prokofiev the Russian composer’s two Violin Concertos and three short but very popular pieces taken from his ballets and operas.
The Dance of the Knights
The first work is one of the most famous compositions ever written by Prokofiev: the Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet. This is an effective introduction to the entire recording as it immediately sets the atmosphere. Batiashvili, who is remarkable for her technical skills together with her profound sensitivity and intelligence, performs this work with vigour and incisiveness, so that it appears as finely chiselled as a bas-relief – and equally vivid. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, follows her closely and energetically, so that the result is exceptional.
The only problem with the Dance of the Knight is the recorded sound. The technicians’ effort to give prominence to Batiashvili’s violin makes it sound too loud and strident in a few passages. Luckily, this problem is limited to this piece.
Violin Concerto no. 1
In the Violin Concerto no. 1 in D major, soloist and orchestra play with the same commitment and their close connection is valuable for the overall result. However, Batiashvili is unmistakably the driving force and her stamina makes her stand out effortlessly.
Batiashvili is equally impressive in soaring passages and sections where it is necessary to be firmer, something that she achieves with incredible spontaneity and without giving the impression that in her performance there is something affected. What is especially valuable here, apart from Batiashvili’s skill and intelligence, is her emotional honesty. It is this feature that really makes this music sound so intensely personal.
The first movement (Andantino) opens with a dreamlike atmosphere. Batiashvili’s playing is inspiring and pensive, even though it already reveals the energy which will be prominent later. Shortly before the central part of the Andantino, we listen to Batiashvili’s first, significant display of technical brilliance, where her flawless technique combines wonderfully with her audacity and élan. After this long moment of prodigious virtuosity, the atmosphere returns quiet and serene and violin and orchestra play with softness and the music becomes transparent and crystalline.
On the contrary, the second movement (Scherzo. Vivacissimo) is feverish and ebullient, but it seems that Batiashvili is completely at ease between vitality and exuberance.
Finally, the third movement (Moderato) offers at the beginning another moment to express a contemplative mood, which Batiashvili polishes with the insight to which she accustomed us so far, while the orchestra helps her in the definition of placidity. After that, Batiashvili’s performance is remarkable for her transport and abandon to music, but also for her dramatic intensity. The end, with the violin and orchestra finishing together, is a perfect conclusion.
The Grand Waltz from Cinderella is equally mesmerizing. Batiashvili plays with energy, but at the same time she is able to create an atmosphere which is both magical and ethereal, sharply highlighted by the orchestra.
The Violin Concerto no. 2
After Cinderella, the second Violin Concerto begins. To the previous technical virtuosity and charisma, Batiashvili adds her soulful approach, playing passages of unimaginable beauty with a vibrant tone that seems more joyous and free than that of the first Concerto. From the very first movement (Allegro moderato), Batiashvili finds the way to express a wide variety of feelings that are based on optimism. She is full of vitality and her technical skills are completely at the service of music.
The joy of the first movement is echoed by the second (Andante assai), but this time Batiashvili expresses that feeling through an unprecedented tenderness.
The last movement (Allegro, ben marcato) is remarkable for its rhapsodic expressiveness. The positive feelings presented before assume a brisk tone and both violinist and orchestra are engaged in high-spirited playing. Once more, Batiashvili is riveting, especially in the last part of the movement, where her resolute manner and her incisiveness are really dazzling.
The Grand March from The Love for Three Oranges ends Visions of Prokofiev in an exhilarating way. Even though it lasts only a minute and a half, it is enough for Batiashvili and Nézet-Séguin to convey an idea of exaggeration which ends an extremely sober recording with a note of fun.
Visions of Prokofiev is an exceptionally well performed album. I suppose that, from what I wrote so far, it is clear that I consider Batiashvili’s performance inspiring and riveting and I do not think that there is anything else to add but a last praise for her achievement. In the last lines of this review, I will spend a few words on Nézet-Séguin’s conduction.
Differently from other recordings where he was not completely convincing (I think in particular of his collection of Mendelssohn’s symphonies), I think that this time Nézet-Séguin has found the right balance among the many colours and situations presented by Prokofiev in his Violin Concertos. The thoughtful and lyrical passages are represented with enough finesse, while the most resolute ones do not lack vigour. Nézet-Séguin carefully and closely follow Batiashvili in the development of the musical ideas and the result is that Visions of Prokofiev is coherent and harmonious.
The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, at last, plays wonderfully and, despite the fact that it is always Batiashvili’s violin to be privileged by the sound engineering, its rich colours are brilliant.