Lisa Batiashvili, François Leleux and friends at the Bristol Proms
JS Bach, Piazzolla and chatty introductions made for a heartwarming concert
Wife-and-husband team Lisa Batiashvili and François Leleux turned to Bach for their performance at the Bristol Old Vic, as the second Bristol Proms got underway yesterday. I'm not sure I would have mentioned their marital status but for it being hammed up in the publicity – ‘[In Erbarme dich] the listeners will be able to understand something about what those two musicians mean to each other’ – and the fact it formed part of a rather more charming introduction by Leleux, as he welcomed his wife, 'who plays like an angel’, to the stage.
Their hour-long concert felt like a medley of greatest hits: JS Bach’s Violin and Oboe Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060, the E major Violin Concerto, BWV 1042, an arrangement of the aria ‘Erbarme dich’ from the St Matthew Passion, and 'Spring in Buenos Aires' from Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons to round the evening off. Short, chatty introductions to each work added to the warm atmosphere that the musicians – and audience – created in the intimate 18th-century theatre. Cameras in the auditorium filmed the musicians, with the live images projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage.
With a small orchestra of four violins, two violas, two cellos, double bass and continuo, this was Bach that melded elements of period practice with a Romantic spirit. Leleux was in the driving seat for the double concerto, a big-hearted performance with a rich sound. Tempos were smart, and crescendos and diminuendos blew like gusts of wind through the ensemble. Both here and in the E major Violin Concerto, the slow movements felt overly busy, losing some of the hallowed stillness that gives them soul. And perhaps it was the close halo of the ensemble’s string sound that meant some of the detail of Lisa Batiashvili’s violin solo was lost.
Oboe d’amore replaced the alto voice in this arrangement of ‘Erbarme dich’, the impassioned plea for forgiveness from the St Matthew Passion. The sound was plush, the violin and oboe d’amore lines engaging in heartfelt dialogue. But, shorn both of its context in the emotional drama of the whole Passion and its words, and despite the inherent beauty of the music, this felt like Bach-lite.
It was in Desyatnikov’s arrangement of the tango-Baroque 'Spring in Buenos Aires' from Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons, that Lisa Batiashvili’s personality burst forth, her gutsy playing bouncing off the scratching sul ponticello effects, moody strings and fierce glissando yowls of the ad hoc ensemble.