just that good: Fischer.
College Memorial Chapel, Oct. 28
I heard her play; now I’m a believer. The 22-year-old violinist
Julia Fischer has been charting a meteoric rise throughout
the world, with significant performances this year throughout
the U.S. That we got her here in Schenectady, on the heels
of triumphant performances of the fiendish Sibelius Violin
Concerto with the Boston Symphony, is a tribute both to
series organizer Daniel Berkenblit’s foresight in choosing
talent and to Fischer’s own love for playing chamber music.
And thanks to our dedicated Homeland Security forces, what
should have been a trio was reduced to two when cellist Danjulo
Ishizaka, no doubt packing plastique in his Stradivarius,
was denied a visa. Fischer and pianist Milana Chernyavska
came up with a program just as compelling as what had been
planned, with an added bonus: We got to hear Fischer make
her way through the pinnacle of the violin repertory, Bach’s
Partita No. 2 in D Minor.
What’s to follow will be a shameless paean to Fischer’s performance,
so I want to make sure to emphasize that in her partnership
with Chernyavska—they played sonatas by Schumann and Franck—the
two of them worked together as one. In a trio, the pianist
is understood to have an equal footing. As a duo with violin,
there’s a too-long tradition of being a backseat player. Here
there was no such diminishment. Chernyavska was an eager and
sensitive player, easily the master of the difficult passages
both pieces provide, while remaining entirely in sync with
Fischer. It was glorious work.
Although Cesar Franck wrote only one violin sonata, the piece
is so often played that you wish he’d offered something else
just for relief. By the time we reached that point in the
program, however—it was the only announced work on the second
half—I knew that we were in for something special.
Like so much of Franck’s music, serve it well and it works
its magic. Fischer has a fast vibrato and a focused tone,
which added to the intensity of her transparent interpretation.
The piece begins with a repeated query from the piano, answered
by the violin with what turns out to be not only the opening
theme but also a motif that will sound throughout the piece.
There’s an edginess to the relationship between the two instruments
throughout the work that heightens the dramatic tension, and
the players understood and made the most of that friction.
Like Brahms, Schumann wrote three violin sonatas. Unlike Brahms’,
they’re rarely played. But that’s Schumann’s fate: to be relegated
to the category of Brahms Lite. His Sonata No. 1 certainly
underscores that perception. It’s a pleasant though lightweight
piece, achieving much of its effect through its brevity. There’s
a free-flowing, almost improvisatory feel to it, yet it requires
excellent technique from both players. Unlike the Franck sonata,
this is a piece that benefits from a stamp of personality,
and Fischer and Chernyavska ably did just that, adding appropriate
amounts of fire and mystery to the work.
The way Fischer—who played the entire program from memory—wrapped
herself in and around Bach’s Partita No. 2 was nothing
short of miraculous.
I can quibble with some of her choices, but such criticism
pales in the context of the overall wonder of her playing.
And although she plays a big-toned Guadagnini, she is clearly
familiar with Baroque styles of playing and applied some of
that leanness to her approach. It was an excellent synthesis
Each of the Partita’s movements is a dance, from the stately
allemande that opens it, a single-voiced, four-quarter time
lament laced with triplets, to the mighty chaconne. In the
sarabande, she tossed off the many difficult double- and triple-stops
with unnerving ease, while the high-kicking gigue was a marvel
of a virtuoso bow-arm.
And then the chaconne. No 22-year-old should have this kind
of facility with so demanding a work. Yet she played this
as if she’d been playing it all her life—which I suppose she
has—and allowed us to fall into the work’s mysterious depths,
accompany her on a fabulous journey and emerge enriched by
the experience. It’s not just the requirements of the notes
themselves; it’s a quality that lurks behind them, in the
way that Bach sequenced the many variations, in the changes
of mood, in the overall dramatic arc, in that indefinable
quality that informs a work of such genius.