Lisa Batiashvili & Daniel Barenboim
Tchaikovsky, Sibelius: Violin Concertos
Deutsche Grammophon, 2016
Violinist Lisa Batiashvili and conductor Daniel Barenboim perform in this recording the violin concertos of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Jean Sibelius.
Tchaikovsky wrote his only Violin concerto in D major, op. 35, in 1878, just after the failure of his short and unhappy marriage to Antonina Mulyakova, and is one of his best works in this period, inspired by the company of violinist Iosif Kotek, his former student and intended dedicatee of the concert (but Tchaikovsky gave up this intention for fear of gossip). The concert echoes Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor in the cadenza of the first movement and in the introduction of the Canzonetta.
Sibelius composed the first version of his Violin Concerto in D minor between 1903 and 1904, but he revised it in 1905, after that the violinist of the premiere found some difficulties in learning it (the performance was directed by the composer himself in Helsinki in 1904 and was a failure). The new and definitive version received its first performance in Berlin, under the direction of Richard Strauss. In the concert, Sibelius «took up what would seem an impossible challenge – the fusing of his stern, compromise-resistant neo-primitivism (Sibelius as ‘deep and sober thinker’) with the tradition of the flashy, exhibitionistic virtuoso concerto, a tradition filled with displays of dazzling technique that sometimes bordered on emptiness» (quote from the Grove Dictionary).
It is time to talk about this recording now. Lisa Batiashvili is an accomplished violinist and it is a pleasure to listen to her. The warm sound of her violin joins ideally the two concerts, but their execution is extremely different. In Tchaikovsky’s concert, Batiashvili expresses all kind of delicate feelings: she is romantic, soft, even dreamy, especially in the first movement, and her exploration of the Russian composer’s world is like an intimate journey. On the other hand, Batiashvili is more sombre and thoughtful in Sibelius’s concert, as if she is trying to analyse an idée fixe. Her virtuosic passages are thrilling, especially the long cadenza in Sibelius’s concert.
Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin are marvellous too. The conductor finds new, never heard before sounds and the music is sumptuous in both concerts, and brilliant, but of two different kinds of brilliance: Tchaikovsky’s concert is the occasion to express powerful emotions in a lighter way, while the atmosphere in Sibelius’s concert is heavier and its music is definitely more nervous.
As I said at the beginning, Batiashvili and Barenboim work very well together and I think their collaboration is one of the best of the last years. I hope to listen to them again soon.