New Classical Tracks: Expressive Voices, from a Dark Time

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
February 15, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. — "When you bring music to the whole world," explains violinist Lisa Batiashvili, "it is important to have an easy connection to all kinds of people. And then, in the end, you are not really a stranger anywhere anymore." Lisa Batiashvili has lived in the Republic of Georgia, Germany, Finland, Moscow and France. As a musician she says it's an advantage to make your home wherever you live. On her new recording, "Echoes of Time," Batiashvili reflects on the places where she's lived, through the works of composers whose artistic lives, like that of her own, were powerfully impacted by political events in Russia or the Soviet Union.

Lisa Batiashvili was 11 years old when she and her family left their Georgian homeland and the music of Dmitri Shostakovich went with them. Batiashvili's violin teacher in Hamburg was Mark Lubotsky, a former student of David Oistrakh, for whom Shostakovich wrote his violin concertos. Batiashvili had a direct source for learning work which became the centerpiece of her new recording, "When my teacher started telling stories about the First Violin Concerto," she recalls, "I completely fell in love with this piece." She believes Shostakovich's first violin concerto represents the freedom musicians were seeking through music, something she experienced herself in the first ten years of her life.

The first movement is a haunting Nocturne in A minor. The orchestra's low strings set the dark mood. This movement is really an aria for the violin soloist. Batiashvili not only produces a gorgeous sound, her unique voice is created by the many lyrical colors she pulls from her instrument.

As a composer Shostakovich was very much into trumpets and trombones, but in this concerto, he avoids these brass instruments completely. Instead, he uses a choir of wind instruments for added expression in the Scherzo. This second movement possesses the typical gritty Shostakovich sound, especially in the choppy violin solo.

Lisa Batiashvili felt a real affinity working with Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen on this recording. When they started rehearsals for the Shostakovich violin concerto she recalls that everything was very easy and natural. He has amazing intuition, and the same is true of pianist Helene Grimaud, who joins Batiashvili on two other works on this recording, Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," and Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel." Arvo Part wrote "Spiegel im Spiegel" just before leaving his native Estonia. The work sounds very simple, yet its structure is quite complex. It calls for a combination of two types of voices; a melodic voice, and a second repetitive voice built on tonic triads. Those triads are continually repeated as if they're being reflected back and forth, thus giving this piece its title, which in German can mean both "mirror in the mirror" or "mirrors in the mirror." The slow, steady ascending and descending lines of the violin float effortlessly over the continuous serene arpeggio accompaniment of the piano. Batiashvili and Grimaud have wanted to play together for years. This gorgeous performance was worth the wait.

Time Magazine said Georgian composer Giya Kancheli "is the most important composer to have emerged from the Soviet Union since the death of Shostakovich." On this recording we hear a piece he composed in 1995, titled "V&V." It features the unique voice of a famous Georgian pop singer, Mr. H. Gonashvili, who died in an accident a few years earlier. In this short piece the composer explores the notions of eternity and reality, represented by the voice and the solo violin with orchestra.

"Echoes of Time," is a very personal collection of works by composers whose lives were shaped by oppression in the Soviet Union. Thinking of her homeland, Batiashvili remembers that oppression, which she experienced firsthand as a girl-but also its Mediterranean-like warmth, and people who are alive, emotional and spontaneous-- very much like the music she shares on, "Echoes of Time."

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