Sublime performance from Batiashvili

Proms 39-41 | Royal Albert Hall, London/Radio 3

Sunday's Prom was the stuff of musical history. A precociously inventive Fourth Symphony by the nine-year-old Mozart set the scene, but the evening's youthful star was Georgian-born Elisabeth Batiashvili, just 20 years old and more confidently in command of Beethoven's Violin Concerto than many a vintage virtuoso. Osmo Vänskä conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony, holding down some of the season's softest pianissimos and allowing Batiashvili ample space to breathe her phrases.

Sunday's Prom was the stuff of musical history. A precociously inventive Fourth Symphony by the nine-year-old Mozart set the scene, but the evening's youthful star was Georgian-born Elisabeth Batiashvili, just 20 years old and more confidently in command of Beethoven's Violin Concerto than many a vintage virtuoso. Osmo Vänskä conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony, holding down some of the season's softest pianissimos and allowing Batiashvili ample space to breathe her phrases.

I don't normally care for broad tempos in this piece, but Batiashvili made them work. She drew a sweet, firmly centred tone that projected well into the hall and made sublime music of Kreisler's cadenzas. It's a talent that future generations will prize alongside those of, say, Milstein or Neveu. Indeed, my guess is that in years to come those of us who were present will reminisce about Batiashvili's first Prom much as we do now about Yevgeny Kissin's first-ever Proms solo recital three years ago.

Vänskä's hour of glory was in Rachmaninov, an unexpurgated Second Symphony complete with first movement repeat, restrained, lyrical and judiciously paced. Some might have craved a richer string tone, but the pay-off in terms of structure and clarity was considerable. The percussive gun-shot that sets the Scherzo's fugato in motion had us jumping out of our seats, though I wish the lady who dropped a can of drink in the slow movement had jumped out of hers a little earlier.

On the following night, Ravel's exquisite Mother Goose received an unexpected mobile phone call, though Vänskä's mastery of line was so mesmerising that we hardly noticed. Again, the Scottish orchestra surpassed themselves, softening to sounds near the brink of silence. In contrast, Stravinsky's Petrushka (1947 version) enjoyed vivid tonal colouring and heightened mood changes. Vänskä capitalised on expressive dynamics while keeping a firm grip on the score's varying dance rhythms. There were some distinctive solo contributions, but the real heroes sat among the brass section, the trumpets and trombones especially.

Sunday's concerto - a disquieting piece for violin and wind instruments by Kurt Weill - was performed with an appropriate tartness by Isabelle von Keulen.

For me, though, the Keller Quartet's late-night cocktail of Bach and Kurtág marked a perfect end to the musical day. Three pieces from Bach's Art of Fugue preceded Kurtág's aphoristic Microludes. Then we heard two dancing fugues (Nos 4 and 6), more Kurtág, Fugues Nos 9 and 11, Kurtág's Bartókian Officium Breve, Bach's outreaching final fugue (ending in mid-air, where it belongs) and, to close, an other-worldly Kurtágian envoi for two violins. It was an unforgettable sequence, though a brief interval might have helped us to endure the evening's stifling humidity.

Radio 3 will rebroadcast Proms 29 and 30 on Friday and Monday respectively at 2pm

Comments