Violinist Batiashvili and new work lift populist Cleveland Orchestra program

By Lawrence Budmen

Lisa Batiashvili performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra Friday night at the Arsht Center in Miami. Photo: Sammy Hart/DG

The concluding program of this season’s Cleveland Orchestra Miami residency veered toward flashy exuberance compared to the subtle musicality of last week’s concert. Still, there were musical rewards to be had Friday night at the Arsht Center, especially from soloist Lisa Batiashvili and a recent score by a gifted Austrian composer.

Tall and statuesque, the Georgian-born Batiashvili belongs to the Russian school of violin playing (her teacher Mark Lubotsky was a student of David Oistrakh). Her high-powered reading of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major fully resonated from that tradition and proved totally convincing. 

Batiashvili favors a wide vibrato but her intonation is flawless and precise. Passages that are smudged in less pristine performances were rendered with accuracy and aplomb and she knows how to milk a theme or a phrase for maximum impact. In the first movement’s extended cadenza, her phenomenal technique fully encompassed all the double stops and pyrotechnical challenges.

Batiashvili thinned down her sound for the Canzonetta, spinning the principal melody in long, almost elegiac arcs that fully encapsulated the music’s sadness and nostalgia. There was a touch of gypsy fire in the Allegro vivacissimo finale with Batiashvili taking the tempo marking at face value. The movement was played without the traditional cuts, and the final dash to the exhilarating finish line capped a vivid display of bravura mixed with probing musicianship.

Conductor Franz Welser-Möst knows his Tchaikovsky, demonstrated by an artfully contoured “Pathetique” symphony last week. The Clevelanders’ music director skillfully dovetailed Batiashvili’s every turn of phrase or change of meter while pinpointing orchestral details with total clarity. Outstanding flute and clarinet solos were particularly notable in the orchestra’s full-bodied support.

Two orchestral showpieces comprised the concert’s second half. Bernd Richard Deutsch has said that he was inspired to write Intensity for Orchestra after hearing the Cleveland ensemble for the first time at Severance Hall, its homebase. Deutsch relates that he was struck by the orchestra’s bright and striking timbres and that is certainly evident in this 2022 score which is dedicated to Welser-Möst. 

The twenty-minute work abounds in brassy and energetic motivic fragments. In the central episode, celesta and harp glide over hazy strings with more than a whiff of impressionism. The final rapid section puts the entire orchestra through its paces, with a percussion battery given special prominence. Deutsch’s post-modern creation is immensely appealing and was rousingly received by the near-capacity audience. The piece seems to reveal a distinctive sensibility, leaving one eager to hear more from this composer. Welser-Möst led a meticulous performance that distilled the music’s strengths.

Respighi’s Roman Festivals is the third of the composer’s Roman triptych and the weakest of the tone poems. In attempting to copy the grandeur, color and excitement of The Pines of Rome, the work frequently succumbs to vulgarity and symphonic excess. Like its two predecessors, the four-movement tapestry spotlights the individual sections of the orchestra, allowing the entire group to shine.

Deploying a greatly expanded orchestra, Welser-Möst drew out every ounce of technicolor brilliance from Respighi’s soundscape. With three extra trumpets stationed in the choral loft behind and above the stage, the fanfares calling the gladiators and Christian martyrs to their deaths in the opening “Games at the Circus Maximus” were played for prime spatial effect. The undertow of nine double basses lent support to the sonic impact. Robust Italian dances in the concluding “Epiphany” were articulated with brio and luster.

The Cleveland Orchestra repeats the program  8 p.m. Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami.


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Violinist Batiashvili and new work lift populist Cleveland Orchestra program”

  1. Posted Jan 28, 2023 at 2:25 pm by Jaime Herrera

    I really enjoyed reading this review. I am familiar with the soloist and orchestra so I know the review is very accurate and well-articulated. Thanks!

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Sat Jan 28, 2023
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