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She’s just that good: Fischer.

A Whiz Kid
By B.A. Nilsson

Julia Fischer

Union 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 of styles.

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.

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