Jokers, nymphs and peasant fiddlers shared the stage in Friday night's balletic display from violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under its new music director, Daniele Gatti. On paper, this programme almost offered an embarrassment of riches, from the wonderfully rarefied textures of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no. 2 in G minor to the sumptuous whirlpool of Greek romance via Stravinsky's poker-faced depiction of the Joker in Jeu de cartes.

Lisa Batishvili, Daniele Gatti and the RCO © Mark Allan | Barbican
Lisa Batishvili, Daniele Gatti and the RCO
© Mark Allan | Barbican

Batiashvili's approach to Prokofiev's concerto displayed a panoply of colours that balanced the clean, neo-Classical lines in the first two movements with a laser-like injection of spiky dance rhythms in the finale. She unveiled the unaccompanied opening bars with an appropriate restraint and let Prokofiev's sly harmonic twists speak unhindered by any mannerisms. Throughout the first movement, she juxtaposed a beguiling sweetness of tone and delicacy of line in the stratospheric passages with an impressive transparency in more driven sections. Gatti ensured that the orchestra's presence never drowned the soloist and this was particularly revealing in the slow movement, where the 'clockwork' accompaniment was perfectly fused together with the intimacy of Batiashvili's playing. The magical aura of the sinister central section with muted brass and mechanical string figures was caught to perfection, highlighting the balletic origins of Prokofiev's material.

After the expansive, arioso-like melodies of the second movement, Batiashvili and Gatti attacked the foot-stomping peasant rondo with delicious abandon. If one or two reprises of the main theme momentarily didn't quite gel between soloist and orchestra, this was certainly overshadowed by the incisive quality of playing from all departments. Despite the extra gear of physical engagement which Batiashvili found in this movement, her tone never sounded overly aggressive, even in the most demanding passages. Gatti and his orchestra responded with a keen rhythmic drive and together with Batiashvili's unforced virtuosity, brought the concerto to a thrilling conclusion.

Daniele Gatti © Mark Allan | Barbican
Daniele Gatti
© Mark Allan | Barbican
The second half opened with an extrovert account of Stravinsky's Jeu de Cartes, a work whose game-playing theme is displayed through the Joker's machinations and minor skirmishes between various suits. In the three scenes, or 'deals' as Stravinsky calls them, Gatti relished in the extreme contrasts between the graceful interweaving lines and delicate wit of the solo variations (in the Second Deal) and the crackling energy of the “Dance of the Joker” and the “Battle between Spades and Hearts”. The two waltz movements had an irresistible swagger in the Concertgebouw's more rounded approach to this music. Only in the final variation of the second scene did one notice Gatti's extreme broadening of the tempo come close to the edge of what sounded natural in the surrounding context, yet this sense of risk-taking brought thrilling results in the coda and was a fitting summation to this musical game of poker.

To finish, the audience was offered a suitably panoramic performance of the Second Suite from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe. As with Gatti's subtle balancing of Prokofiev's textures in the first half, here the enlarged forces of the Concertgebouw were handled with even more care and restraint in Ravel's sumptuous orchestration. This resulted in crystalline textures, particularly with the murmurings of the flutes and clarinets in the dawn passage. The attention to detail, however, was allied with a flowing tempo which did not quite conjure up the image of an unconscious Daphnis at the very opening; nevertheless, the balancing of forces and the voluptuous tone from all departments produced a wonderfully satisfying climax to the “Lever du jour” section. In the “Pantomime” and “Danse générale” there were many highlights, not least Kersten McCall's flute solo which floated effortlessly across the stage. In a concert that was infused with the spirit of the dance, Gatti and the Concertgebouw produced a suitably bacchanalian climax to Ravel's finale that ended a wonderful evening of music-making from a dynamic new partnership.