Lisa Batiashvili / Christian Thielemann / Dresden Staatskapelle

Johannes Brahms & Clara Schumann

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Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili (whose name appears in the graphics in Georgia's uniquely beautiful script) is a worthy avatar of the great Russian school. Perhaps the strand of that tradition she most recalls is the one flowing from Jascha Heifetz, with his steely tonal perfection, long lines, and grasp of overall structure. These qualities serve Batiashvili well in the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, a work for which there is certainly no shortage of available recordings. Where Batiashvili has the advantage over her peers, however, is in her close relationship with the orchestra here; this is her first recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden orchestra, of which she is "Capell-Virtuosin." It shows in her close work with conductor Christian Thielemann at the joints of Brahms' vast first-movement canvas, perhaps the most perfect marriage of sheer virtuosity with profound structural thinking in the history of music. The points at which the movement's intermediate dotted-rhythm theme return and mark the movement's sectional organization are handled with special snap here. Batiashvili, playing a fearsome cadenza by Ferruccio Busoni in the first movement, is technically superb, but she doesn't let technique overwhelm enthusiasm. The other strong point of this performance is the rousing finale, which is not unprecedented but is definitely not common among younger players fearful of stepping out. Again, Batiashvili manages a variety of sharp but not harsh attack to match Thielemann's rhythmic drive. If there's a downside here, it's the conclusion of the album, a trio of Romances for violin and piano, Op. 22, by Clara Schumann. These are worthwhile and underplayed pieces, but an orchestral potboiler would have been better; the music lurches from orchestra to violin-and-piano texture, and the switch in sound environment from the Lukaskirche in Dresden to the Bavaria Musikstudios in Munich is jarring. It sounds as though one recording has been taken off and another one put on. The Brahms is so good that this is no more than a minor complaint, however. Highly recommended.

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