Georgian gifts

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Lisa Batiashvili finds powerful emotion in the dark spirit of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto

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Is it something they put in the tea in Georgia? Last week it was the young pianist Khatia Buniatishvili who brought virtuosic fireworks to the Proms, this week, it’s the playing of the 32-year-old violinist Lisa Batiashvili that has been lighting up the stage. Both are from Georgia, both have taken part in the BBC’s New Generation Artists scheme, both are young, beautiful, and phenomenally gifted.

Batiashvili’s performance of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen last night was music-making of the very highest order.

The first thing that strikes you about her playing, from the opening sinuous melody of the Concerto’s Nocturne, is the rich tone of her 1709 Stradivarius; the next is the way in which she puts it to such powerful use, combining natural freedom of expression with absolute pinpoint precision – both of intonation and articulation.

The Concerto makes huge technical and emotional demands on its soloist. Completed in March 1948, and dedicated to David Oistrakh, it was censored under the Stalinist regime and remained unperformed for seven and a half years before it was premiered in Leningrad in October 1955 under Evgeny Mravinsky.

Its themes grow out of the darkness of the war years, and Batiashvili plumbed the depths of its emotional abyss, hurtling through the demonic Scherzo and fully embracing the spiritual heart of the work – its Passacaglia – before transfixing us with its cadenza.

That she recently recorded the work with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Salonen showed in their unanimity of approach – not only in the wildness of the Scherzo finale but also in the encore, the waltz from Shostakovich’s Dances of the Dolls, that followed. Here Batiashvili and the ensemble sounded almost drunk on rubato, but always as one.

Their performance provided the focal point for an all-Russian programme in which Salonen’s Philharmonia deftly tackled the dark ironies of Shostakovich’s Age of Gold Suite, the colour of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. Great programme, wonderfully executed.

Prom 44: Shostakovich: Age of Gold Suite; Violin Concerto No. 1; Stravinsky: Petrushka; Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini
Lisa Batishvili (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen

Nick Shave writes for The Guardian and is contributing editor of BBC Music Magazine. A regular reviewer and blogger of the Proms, he can usually be found at the Royal Albert Hall with only seconds to spare, breaking into an ungainly powerwalk somewhere between the ticket collection desk and the stalls

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Nick Shave writes for The Guardian and is contributing editor of BBC Music...

Nick Shave