Batiashvili’s artistry lifts an uneven Philharmonic program

Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm
Lisa Batiashvili performed Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 Thursday night with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Lisa Batiashvili performed Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 Thursday night with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Violinist Lisa Batiashvili returned to the New York Philharmonic this week for a program of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Gershwin led by conductor Alan Gilbert. The always energetic Batiashvili brought a certain verve to the evening that, unfortunately, was not always reciprocated by the Philharmonic.

The program opened with Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture. It was a rocky beginning, as the slow-moving, opening horn calls in the wind sections staggered between players, and was just generally unsure. Gilbert did manage to gain some momentum and precision however, and by the end, the musicians were playing with a more assured sound.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 dates from the end of the eighteenth century, about 15 years earlier than this version of the overture, and not long after he left his native Bonn for the big city of Vienna. There is a youthful energy in this symphony, similar to the overture, which showcases a young composer working through the influences of Mozart and Haydn.

It was precisely that energy, however, that was missing from the Philharmonic’s rendition. It also lacked clarity that would have infused the work with more energy instantly. The second movement began gracefully enough, but was undermined by a non-unified string section.

Finally, in the opening of the fourth movement the orchestra started playing as one. There was suddenly more dynamic range greater precision, especially in the winds, and a driving excitement that closed the symphony to an erupting applause. But there was no breadth and space in the second movement, or intensity in the dynamic swells of the theme of the quick third movement. It was all rather staid and only nominally stimulating.

Batiashvili is a technically immaculate violinist and with depth to match. In Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, the first movement, made up of seemingly endless, weaving lines, was particularly impressive. Batiashvili managed to keep the melodic line always pulsing forward, incessantly with a long vision. Even in the softest-possible moments, the notes surged forward with intensity. The Philharmonic followed suit, dutifully accompanying and letting the soloist take charge.

Most disappointingly, however, was the opening of the third movement. The orchestra, alone, with devastating low strings and aggressive brass, stayed squarely in the middle of the road. It was too easy, lacking any thickness of sound, and not at all in keeping with the ardor Batiashvili had been supplying. As the orchestra moved into the chorale-like section, however, there was a simplicity that was just right. The winds and brass blended beautifully.

The program ended with Gershwin’s An American in Paris. An easy crowd-pleaser, the orchestra still kept their guard up, but with hints of ease in the bluesy lines. Gilbert kept the melodies straight, with very little rubato or Romantic sense. But it was Batiashvili, with her quiet intensity, which made the evening worthwhile.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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