For their first of two concerts as part of this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe presented an all-Beethoven program Thursday night at Alice Tully Hall comprising two of the composer’s most mammoth works: the Violin Concerto and the “Eroica” Symphony. Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin—recently named Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra—was bristling with energy on the podium, leading the European forces in a truly dynamic and versatile reading of both works.
The symphony allowed the players to display their precise sense of rhythm and clear attention to detail, faithfully adhering to Beethoven’s manic dynamic changes and percussive accent markings. Highlighting a devastatingly bleak account of the work’s famous funeral march, the orchestra’s woodwinds were fluid and dark, with Principal oboe François Leleux’s tone easily rising above the glossy string sound during his many central moments. Adding additional heft to the orchestral timbre, the three French horns were incredibly versatile—fluid and blended when mixed with the woodwinds; brazen and brassy in their famous hunting calls during the Scherzo’s central trio.
The true star of the evening, however, was the concerto’s soloist, Lisa Batiashvili. The youngest competitor in the history of the Sibelius Violin Competition, Batiashvili delivered an exceptionally nuanced and elegant performance of the work, with her color choices adding many sublime moments to the performance. Along with the orchestra, the soloist moved between Beethoven’s stormy outbursts and resplendent chorales with great ease—her tone never losing its beauty even in the highest of passages. Playing Fritz Kreisler’s cadenzas, Batiashvili brilliantly voiced the double-stopped counterpoint lines, adding an extra sense of drama even to the solo moments. The sold-out crowd ate it up, never relenting in its ovation until Batiashvili had taken three separate bows.
Making the evening truly memorable was the orchestra’s decisive approach to the scores: although performing on modern instruments, there was a great sense of period style and finesse to their playing. Nothing was overly romanticized or drawn out, and most of all, the sense of internal rhythm never lost its focus—an absolutely vital component to any successful evening of Beethoven.