Supercouples have permeated the music world for centuries from the Schumanns to Sonny and Cher. All the same, violinist Lisa Batiashvili and François Leleux are no exception. Ms Batiashvili performed her final concert as the New York Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence alongside her husband, oboe virtuoso François Leleux, in works by two distinguished organist-composers. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Oboe, Violin and Strings was partnered the U.S. première of Thierry Escaich’s Double Concerto for Oboe, Violin and Orchestra, exhibiting dialogues between the oboe and violin both heartfelt and chaotic. By choosing to compose a piece so dependent on another work, Escaich limits himself in some ways to the future programming of his work. However, by composing an innovative companion piece to an established work from the repertoire in combination with an idea similar to the digital concept of “sampling”, Escaich’s concerto illuminates an innovative compositional process of our information age.

Lisa Batiashvili and François Leleux © Sammy Hart | DG
Lisa Batiashvili and François Leleux
© Sammy Hart | DG

Bach’s Double Concerto in C minor is set inside a dark key center, but a closer look at the solo lines reveals two masterfully braided independent lines. Lifting their eyes off the page, the duo showed an outstanding sense of communication. Mr Leleux’s gaze rarely fell from Ms Batiashvili who performed with such dedicated focus that the underlying intimacy could be seen as well as heard. Mr Leleux’s gestures were often grand, moving precisely with the musical lines and his articulations were consciously diverse in order to change character while maintaining a consistent tone quality. Maestro Alan Gilbert's interpretation of the accompanying strings and continuo was especially unexpected as such subtle transitions from pizzicato to arco would modify the entire musical atmosphere. Far from what would be considered "authentic" performance practice, the orchestra created a variety of characters through unified changes in timbre that transported parts the third movement into territory unknown in Baroque sound. The relinquishment of exact and straightforward interpretation toward the end of the concerto was a welcome prelude to the Escaich to follow.

Thierry Escaich, France's foremost organ virtuoso, took Bach's framework and created a new concerto with the idea of transformation in mind. Escaich's Double Concerto introduces a conversation different from Bach's, one more strident and complex in regards to instrumentation and narrative. Here, the soloists found themselves less focused on one another and more focused on counting the mixed meters. The two solo lines begin by chasing after one another, first introducing a fragment of Bach's final movement and diluting into the composer’s own thoughts like a dreamy hallucination. The almost mathematical decision to begin with a sample of the Bach’s third movement in Escaich’s first movement suggests the composer hitting rewind to reverse the flow of energy from the preceding concerto.

As one would expect of anyone paying homage to Bach, the notion of fugue is apparent, although Escaich does not adhere to traditional rules of counterpoint. More so than in the Bach, Escaich allows the soloists to frequently speak with other members of the orchestra. The second movement is a prime example of this dialogue as the solo oboe floats high over a vibraphone tremolo and finds a reply from the distant oboe in the orchestra. Not to be overlooked by her duet partner, the solo violin then slithers in with frantic interruption. Finally, the last movement contains the theme of the first, staggered and in a major mode. The string section takes flight from the very beginning, and the movement rides high on excitement until the concerto ends with an abrupt stop like the end of a tape.

The musicians of the New York Philharmonic performed Shostakovich's monumental Tenth Symphony in the second half of the program. Composed in 1953 in the aftermath of Stalin's death, the symphony features lengthy wind solos through a barren void of meticulously placed silence that are only interrupted by a snare drum or piccolo in a kind of militaristic danse macabre. Shostakovich built the first movement to be half the duration of the entire symphony, providing a general atmosphere for the Stalinist era. Maestro Gilbert commanded sophisticated patience in order to persist through the often lethargic landscapes. The second movement, a violent march, was meant to be a musical portrait of Stalin himself; however, it's often viewed now as a portrait of dictatorship in general. A raucous contrast to the movements surrounding it, the romp lasts only minutes before returning to the overarching subject of affliction. In any case, the symphony’s melancholia offered stark contrast to the vivacious frolic that preceded it.