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City Lights

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikoloz Rachveli
rec. 2019, RBB Großer Sendesaal, Berlin; Lenř Records, Tbilisi

I’m sure that this recording needs no recommendation; it’s sure to sell and sell. Take one of DG’s top young artists on a journey around middle-of-the road repertoire and it’s bound to be a runaway success. In this case, the journey theme has rather more substance than the recent CDs on which Daniil Trifonov was sent on an imaginary journey in search of Rachmaninov – all the more artificial because the many photographs were clearly taken on a preserved steam railway in the UK, with the artist sitting in an ex-British Rail carriage. Fortunately, the musical content was very much better than the hype. (4835335: Recommended – review – Recording of the Month – review Autumn 2018/2). I’m surprised to see that we appear never to have reviewed its successor - Arrival 4836617. Let me simply say at this late stage that both these Rachmaninov recordings vie with the very best.

On the new recording of City Lights, Lisa Batiashvili and Nikoloz Rachveli, the latter making an auspicious recording debut, aided and abetted by a number of other artists, including another young star of the Universal records stable, Miloš Karadaglić (guitar), present one piece from each of the cities that have meant something to Batiashvili, each specified in the details below. If the link is a little tenuous – I wouldn’t have associated Bach with Munich, and I’m not sure that the arrangement of his music works well – the result is a sort of gala version of BBC Radio 2’s long-standing Friday Night is Music Night, where light classics, musicals, film and crossover music provide a popular repertoire.

Another analogy would be the Salzburg Summer Concerts, the most recent of which, from 2019, I enjoyed on Sony 19075943542 – review. There’s no video equivalent of the new DG, on DVD or blu-ray, no live audience, and it wasn’t all recorded at the same time, but there is a real sense of occasion about it, with the young soloist and conductor as exciting as the combination of Yuja Wang and Gustavo Dudamel on the Sony.  Overall, however, the tone is different; significantly, Dudamel chose the allegro con fuoco finale of the New World Symphony, whereas Batiasvili and Rachveli have gone with the largo second movement.  Nor is there a centre piece here to match the Rhapsody in Blue from Wang and Dudamel which brings the house down.

I suspect that the target audience is also very different from another exciting recent release by a young star violinist, Alina Ibragimova in the two Shostakovich Violin Concertos, with the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’ and Vladimir Jurowski (Hyperion CDA68313). I suspect, too, that the Shostakovich will be a more frequent visitor to my speakers, but that’s certainly not to decry the DG, which I enjoyed very much.

One thing which the new recording shares with the Trifonov is that the booklet contains lots of photographs of the star performer.  From the way that her first name is emblazoned in a very large font, it looks as if DG seem to be promoting ‘Lisa’ as a one-name phenomenon, as Nigel Kennedy was for a time.  The Hyperion cover may be more apposite to the music, but if the DG hype sells the CD, that's surely OK, too.

Batiashvili recorded the more popular of the two Shostakovich concertos as her debut for DG (4779299 - review), but, as fine as that is, I wish she had also included No.2. Different as the two are, the failure to pair them, as on the new Hyperion was something of a missed opportunity.  The new Hyperion becomes my go-to version.

I imagine that there will be those who also think the lighter tone of the new album a missed opportunity. The thought did cross my mind, but the opening sequence from Charlie Chaplin films caught my attention from the start, to the extent that I could have wished for more. It may well – it should – lead listeners to other recordings of his film music, such as the CPO restoration of the music for Modern Times (7772862 – review), two snatches of which are performed on the DG album.

There’s a recording by Carl Davis on his own label of the City Lights music (CDC015). Also, a selection of Chaplin’s film music arranged for violin and piano on Warner (Philippe Quint and Marta Aznavoorian 93624901808 – review). Bruce McCollum’s review copy of the Warner seems to have come without booklet; it can be found on Naxos Music Library. Best of all, perhaps John Wilson might be persuaded to record an anthology of the Chaplin films, to match his first-class recording of MGM musicals (That’s Entertainment Warner 0288452: Recording of the Month – review).  That's if he can be dragged away from his new enterprises for Chandos, including a brand-new very fine account of Respighi's Roman Trilogy (CHSA5261, SACD, review forthcoming).

Batiashvili's short sequence of music by Piazzólla is another appetite-whetter; here, too, I could have foregone some of the other music for something longer. It would have been good to have had a recording of his Four Seasons (Estaciones Porteńas) not attached to yet another recording of the Vivaldi, as it is on a new recording of the two works from Arabella Steinbacher and the Munich Chamber Orchestra (forthcoming as I write from Pentatone). On the basis of what we have here, I’m sure that Batiashvili and Rachveli could give us a fine account of the Estaciones.

The Piazzólla and several other works are performed in arrangements for violin and orchestra, mostly by the conductor. These are attractive and tasteful; in fact, Batiashvili and Rachveli largely avoid the temptation to offer Mantovani-shimmering-strings interpretations – there’s a place for that in my affection, but Mantovani himself largely filled it. They do, however, lay on the sentiment fairly thick in the adagio for the New World Symphony. I wouldn’t want to hear the whole symphony played that way, but it sits pretty well in the context of this CD.

The Bach arrangement, too, is pretty slurpy – I doubt if JSB would recognise it as his work any more than Albinoni would recognise ‘his’ Adagio which, if it ever had anything to do with that composer, it ran through on stilts and was completely overlaid by Giazzotto who ‘discovered’ it. Mercifully, this Bach arrangement is shorter than the ‘Albinoni’ pastiche.

It’s perfectly in keeping with the next track, however, Michel Legrand’s Paris Violin, that it receives a tender performance, while the Piazzólla also receives a suitably smoochy performance, albeit one with some suitable violin pyrotechnics.

As well as the familiar items, there’s plenty here that’s new. I don’t recall having heard the Siegel, the Koncz or the Kancheli mélange. There’s plenty of room for showy fiddle-playing in the Koncz – a very different lark from Vaughan Williams’, a very lively bird with a distinct Zigeuner accent; think of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1. Batiashvili rises to the occasion with the aplomb of the young Yehudi Menuhin or Jascha Heifetz. Actually, for my money, that piece would have made a better finale to the programme.

There’s just one other current recording of the Siegel, in its original vocal dress, and no other that I can trace of the Koncz.  Even the Strauss doesn't get too many outings.

As well as arranging many of the pieces and performing as pianist and conductor, Nikoloz Rachveli is the composer of the final sequence of adaptations of the music of fellow Georgian Giya Kancheli. I’m sorry that I can’t relate to this music, which juxtaposes violin tenderness and orchestral noise in a way that makes little musical sense to me. It’s rather like ending a glorious fireworks display with a couple of flash bangs; it certainly doesn’t tempt me to explore more of Kancheli’s music, though his haunting piece V&V on the earlier recording with the Shostakovich concerto does sound intriguing.

I’m sure, however, that we shall be hearing more of this versatile young man in many roles. Born in 1979, he is the Music Director and Principal Conductor of The Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra, but he seems equally at home with the items recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic – and they don’t take to any conductor lightly. We know that Batiashvili can shine in more demanding repertoire; now I’d like to hear Rachveli do the same.

Reservations apart, this may not be a great recording but it is a very enjoyable release which deserves to sell well.

Brian Wilson


Charlie CHAPLIN (1889-1977), José Padilla SÁNCHEZ, Leo DANIDERFF (1878-1943)

The Terry Theme from ‘Limelight’ / La Violetera from ‘City Lights’ / Je cherche aprčs Titine from ‘Modern Times’ / Awakening from ‘Limelight’ / Theme from ‘Modern Times’1 [7:15]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Ich ruf zu dir, BWV639 (arr. Anders Hillborg for Violin Solo and Strings)1 [3:34]
Michel Jean LEGRAND (1932-2019)
Paris Violon1 [4:20]
Ralph Maria SIEGEL (1911-1972)
Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin (arr. Nikoloz Rachveli for Violin, Trumpet, Piano and Orchestra)1 [7:49]
Evening Song (arr. Jarkko Riihimäki for Violin and Orchestra)1 [4:27]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849)
Furioso Galopp, Op.114 (adapt. Nikoloz Rachveli for Violin and Orchestra)1 [2:59]
Ennio MORRICONE (b.1928)
Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso (arr. Nikoloz Rachveli for Violin, Cello and Orchestra)1 [4:21]
Astor PIAZZÓLLA (1921-1992)
Adios Nonino / Vuelvo al sur / Buenos Aires Hora Cero (arr. Nikoloz Rachveli for Violin, Guitar, Piano and Orchestra)2 [7:01]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.9 in e minor, Op.95 ‘From the New World’ II. Largo (adapt. Tamas Batiashvili for Violin and Orchestra)1 [4:51]
Katie MELUA (b.1984)
No Better Magic2 [5:45]
Stephan KONCZ (b.1984)
The Lark2 [3:09]
Nikoloz RACHVELI (b.1979)
Herio Bichebo / Tovlis Panteli / Lament / Styx (Based on Themes by Giya Kancheli) [10:16]
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)1,2
Nikoloz Rachveli (piano)1,2, Till Brönner (trumpet), Maximilian Hornung (cello)1
Miloš Karadaglić (guitar), Zurab Melua (guitar), Tim Harries (bass), Katie Melua (vocals), Nikoloz Kirvalidze, David Nozadze, David Abesadze (vocals)2
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nikoloz Rachveli1
rec. October 2019, RBB Großer Sendesaal, Berlin1
Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikoloz Rachveli2
rec. 28 November 2019, Lenř Records, Tbilisi2



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