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Lisa Batiashvili & BSO take flight at Tanglewood / Boston Musical Intelligencer

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Ripe with an intimate humidity and a potent cocktail of bug spray, pinots, and cheese, the Koussevitzky Shed welcomed Sir Andrew Davis, violinist Lisa Batiashvili, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Inspired by Brahms's new concerto which arose from a collaboration with violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, Dvořák started writing his Violin Concerto in A Minor right after the premiere of the Brahms. The powerhouse of an opening immediately sets the mood with a passionate but short fanfare from the orchestra. This reviewer can vouch for the difficulty in diving right into the first solo after such an orchestral introduction. In fact, achieving a balance between soloist and orchestra is an especially challenging task throughout. So often the violin can be drowned out by the orchestra by virtue of Dvořák's writing (one wonders why a man of his 6-foot stature allowed this!) and this can create a prickly push-and-pull between orchestra and soloist. Additionally, the violin part is uncomfortably written, even when compared to more difficult openings of concertos by Brahms or Paganini. However, when played with enough breadth and gusto, it is a truly grand effect. The Georgian-German violinist Lisa Batiashvili, with her consummate technical strength, launched the concerto with latitude and panache. There was no clutter to speak of.  In general, her playing is more spoken than sung; she often prefers portato technique to separate legato slurs. She maintained a trenchant poise, never forcing the instrument past its limits.

Batiashvili could have done more to distinguish the violinistic style of this piece from that of, say, the Brahms Violin Concerto or other Romantic war horses. While it is certainly a matter of taste, she opted for a more German than a Czech Dvořák. In the final bars of the first movement, Dvořák writes a delightful chamber interlude with the violin's quiet yet expressive lament accompanied by a small group of winds. The performers treated it more as an extension of robust concerto writing, and could have done more to exploit the opportunity to do something truly breathtaking. In the second movement, Batiashvili's playing never lacked suppleness, and she displayed a clear understanding of when to be chained to bar lines, and when to stretch across them. It was wonderfully balanced and expressive.

The crisp, energetic third movement felt downright frisky from both orchestra and soloist. While I would have liked to hear more of the pesante feeling, I was very glad to not hear the finale of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, which is often what ends up happening when violinists perform this work (with more pom-pom-pom, of course). About half way into the movement, Dvořák suddenly introduces a lamenting d minor dumka-esque melody, with indication to avoid preparing it using rubato or tempo changes. In a moment of beautiful fidelity, the performers listened, and were able to alter our mood without needing a "checkpoint to re-calibrate." Batiashvili closed with a rowdy and virtuosic coda. Her approach was more muscular than, say, the effortless and transparent sound of Nathan Milstein but equally convincing, and appropriate considering the venue.

READ THE FULL Boston Musical Intelligencer REVIEW