Classical CD Reviews

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto; C. SCHUMANN: Three Romances – Lisa Batiashvili, violin/ Alice Sara Ott, p./ Staatskapelle Dresden/ Christian Thielemann – DGG

Lovely performances of two Romantic works, large and small – but another half hour of music would be even more attractive.

Published on January 8, 2013

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto; C. SCHUMANN: Three Romances – Lisa Batiashvili, violin/ Alice Sara Ott, p./ Staatskapelle Dresden/ Christian Thielemann – DGG

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; C. SCHUMANN: Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22 – Lisa Batiashvili, violin/ Alice Sara Ott, piano/ Staatskapelle Dresden/ Christian Thielemann – DGG B0017923-02, 47:31 [Distr. by Universal] ***:

This collaboration (rec. June and October 2012) celebrates a love affair in music, that between composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and his feminine ideal, Clara Schumann (1819-1896), piano pedagogue and wife to composer Robert Schumann, who in turn served as friend and champion of young Brahms himself.  The 1878 Brahms Violin Concerto, of course, stands on its own pedestal as a testament to the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, who after the death of Schumann in 1856, often served as go-between for Clara and Johannes Brahms. If violinist Batiashvili brings strength and poetic virility to this performance, conductor Christian Thielemann (b. 1959) injects a rather impatient fire, taking the opening tutti of the Allegro non troppo at a hectic clip, then slowing down for his wonted languor in the intimate cantilena passages with his soloist, much in the manner of Karajan and Furtwaengler, whose tradition informs his musical lineage. Batiashvili’s own instrument, in fact, happens to be the 1715 Stradivarius previously owned by Joachim.  For the collector of varied interpretations of this concerto, the real thrill may well be the Busoni cadenza, rife with tympani punctuations and modal half-step vagaries on the original tunes. The orchestra creeps in, minor, to pick up the soft trills of the violin, and then both proceed to the familiar woodwind blending with the violin as the music sweeps to its inspired close.

It would easy to assign secret amorous codes to the Adagio movement, the interplay between oboe, violin, and French horn suggestive of any number of tender embraces. Batiashvili maintains a firm line and a sweetly singing tone throughout, again coaxing from Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden an intimate veil of sound, expressive and dreamily impassioned.  The unaccredited French horn principal makes his own points as the music reaches a poignant culmination, the woodwinds once more whispering with music heard and of “unheard” music still sweeter. For the gypsy rondo, both participants observe the ma non troppo vivace marking, asserting a febrile virtuosity that retains a slightly martial edge. Thielemann’s big tutti more than compensates for any “compression” of the musical scale in other movements. The middle section proves luminously bucolic, painted with the brush of impassioned nostalgia.  Batiashvili’s driving, piercing tone more than once recalls the kind of force Johanna Martzy could bring to her preferred repertory. Within the confines of a much-played repertory staple, Batiashvili manages to impress her own stamp upon a performance that balances the intimate gesture with the heroic impulse.

While it seems poetically consonant to conclude the disc with music composed by the under-represented Clara Schumann, DGG’s decision to juxtapose a near-forty minute concerto against barely nine minutes of salon music proves lopsided. Clara presented Brahms with the score to her Op. 22 Romances in 1853, when the twenty-year-old composer had elicited another equivalent of “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!” from Robert Schumann, echoing his enthusiasm for young Chopin. The first piece in D-flat Major projects a wistful recollection. The G Minor has a more enigmatic character, both dark and flirtatiously elfin, a kind of lyric garden-scene with twittering birds. The B-flat Major, the longest of the set, most resembles music by Clara’s own Robert, with an undercurrent of roiling passion that soon relents into more conservative central filigree, almost a lyric tune from Mendelssohn.  The urge to ternary form wins out, with the sweet violin’s song restated over a flurry in the keyboard.

—Gary Lemco

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