Violinist Batiashvili makes auspicious L.A. debut in Tchaikovsky

By Truman C. Wang

Another Dudamel night.  Another capacity crowd at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

For new music lovers, Alfred Schnittke’s (K)ein Sommernachtstraum, composed in 1985, is not exactly new or avant-garde like so much music written nowadays.  It is almost neoclassical (“polystylistic” is the official nomenclature) in its witty and airy musical language and highly accessible for public consumption.  It started with chamber music playing of violin and flute duo that gradually expanded to the full orchestra, with humorous references to Shakespeare’s and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream… or not (dream turning into a nightmare of dissonant slurs and glissandos) – hence the parenthesis in the title.  The audience clearly delighted in this fanciful and tuneful work.  Maestro Dudamel conducted the music with a lightness of touch befitting music for a Shakespearean fairy tale. 

There is no lack of good violinists (and their rare Stradivarii and Guarneris) passing through the stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The latest to visit L.A. was German/Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who played the Tchaikovsky d-minor Violin Concerto in a glossy, lyrical fashion that matched the shine of her flowing silver gown.   The first movement Allegro and the Finale were undeniably giddy and exciting, producing some of the most luscious tones I have ever heard from her 1739 Guarneri “del Gesu”.   Delving deeper below the glossy and shiny surface in the slow movement Canzonetta, one found a rather empty shell common among this millennial generation of classical musicians (violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Daniil Trifonov being two major exceptions).   The L.A. Phil provided ideal support, by turns lyrical and heroic.  The winds were exemplary and very fine as always. 

Post-intermission was a forty-minute ballet excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.  Normally I am not a fan of ballet music in concert – minus the dancers and sets – or opera in concert for that matter; however, Maestro Dudamel directed a compelling reading of the popular sections from the ballet, starting with the imposing ‘Montagues and Capulets’ ensemble dance, fast-forwarding to the lighthearted winds of ‘Young Juliet’, the achingly beautiful ‘Balcony Love Scene’, and finally the unbearably poignant ‘Death of Juliet’.   Prokofiev’s music for Romeo and Juliet often sounds a lot like his airy and congenial Classical Symphony, but occasionally surprises listeners with its poetry and profundity. 

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.