Classical review: A brilliant new work by Param Vir, a stunning performance by Lisa Batiashvili, and some exotica from World Routes

Prom 52 – Batiashvili, BBCSO, Oramo (*****)

Prom 54 – World Routes (****)

Michael Church
Friday 23 August 2013 10:05
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As spoken languages are dying, so are musical ones: the indefatigable researchers of Radio 3’s World Routes are doing invaluable work to record and help preserve what can be preserved. World Routes also runs an ‘academy’ scheme through which young British-based musicians are taken back to their country of origin and mentored by a maestro: in the grand scheme of things this can only amount to a gesture, but it’s a gesture worth making.

Prom 54 was designed to showcase the fruits of this year’s project, in which 18-year-old Fidan Hajiyeva has been mentored by the Azerbaijani singer Gochaq Askarov, but as a warm-up we got a set from a new Malian trio who were making their first-ever public performance. And what Trio Da Kali purveyed was a lovely blend of griot music plus something close to jazz, led by singer Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate whose sound has been aptly compared with that of the American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Fidan and Gochaq came on with the traditional instrumental line-up for Azerbaijani mugham, and in the space of 25 minutes we learned three things: Fidan has great promise, Gochaq really is the next best mugham singer after Alim Qasimov, and the intricacies of this ancient musical form can project very accessibly for a Western audience.

Meanwhile Prom 52 brought a newly-commissioned work which had an inspired assurance from first note to last. Param Vir has spoken of ‘sculpting’ his textures in Cave of Luminous Mind, and that was exactly how it felt: using endlessly-rising pianissimo string glissandi, he created the impression of a vast bowl of hazy sound out of which instrumental solos eloquently surged. Under Sakari Oramo’s direction, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the work a radiant luminosity: we’ve had a lot of new pieces parading their Buddhist credentials recently, but this one really did justify its claim to reflect the experience of meditation.

That Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, which followed, was not an anti-climax was due to a superlative performance by the young Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili. There was no vanity in her playing, just an elegantly expressive virtuosity which went to the heart of this work, and her sound was ideally focused for the difficult acoustic. Her encore made a welcome break from the usual Bach/Kreisler routine: a Georgian song-and-dance by Sulkhan Tsintsadze, charmingly arranged for violin and orchestra by her father Tamas Batiashvili.

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