can do anything: Fischer and fiddle.
Julia Fischer and Milana Chernya
College, April 5
Although she’s been cranking out a series of warhorse concerto
recordings, violinist Julia Fischer returned to Union College
last week with a recital program of far-less-familiar works.
Two Octobers ago she and pianist Chernyavska were to make
their area debut as part of a trio, but the cellist’s visa
fell victim to the punch-drunk zeal of Homeland Security and
we were given instead a program that set a template for this
latest one, with (fairly) romantic duos framing a Bach solo
I have to qualify that “romantic” moniker because this time
we also got the sonata by Debussy, an oddball piece that proved
to be his final finished work. It seems at first to be a series
of fragments and gestures, but it leaves you, after its brief
three movements, with a surprising sense of unity. Two ethereal
piano chords herald the violin’s entrance with a characteristically
halting theme, and the opening movement unfolds like a street
scene, with overheard bits of gossip, snatches of song and
ambient noise rendered with a large palette of the fiddle’s
effects: the gritty sound way up on the G string, false harmonics,
trills and ostinato, along with a sprinkling of blue
notes that give the piece a gypsy sound.
It’s a varied and brilliant journey to the finale, itself
a witty succession of false endings that didn’t quite fool
the enthusiastic audience. The compelling nature of the piece
also tends to hide the virtuosic requirements for both pianist
and violinist—there’s no showing off for its own sake, and
Fischer and Chernyavska don’t indulge in the flashy arm flailing
that too many performers display to say, “I’m working here!”
Fischer, who is barely 25, has a fresh, thoroughly affecting
sound. Her recording of Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas is
unexpectedly convincing. You don’t expect a kid to plumb the
emotional depths of these works, which Heifetz termed “the
Bible.” Yet her playing invites you to forget that there’s
a musician between you and the music.
This was re-proven by her performance of Bach’s Sonata
No. 2, a four-movement work with a big fugue in the middle.
To present four simultaneous voices on the violin—which, with
its curved bridge, can play only two strings at a time—calls
both for creative writing (which Bach never lacked) and active
listening. And it’s not just the fugue that asks us to imagine
a broader harmonic picture than the notes provide.
From the first notes of the stately grave that opens
the work, Fischer both sang us the haunting melody and, following
the intricacies of the music, drew us into the fuller-voiced
fabric with sketchy inflections. In the third movement, one
of the most beautiful of all six sonatas, a pulsing harmony
accompanies the tune: difficult to play well, beautifully
The closing allegro is a fireworks show, which Fischer pushed
at a too-fast tempo that clouded the line of the movement.
Still, her finger work was superb.
The program was bracketed by sonatas by Schubert and Mendelssohn.
Or, in Schubert’s case, a “Sonatina,” so named by a publisher
nervous of scaring off amateurs. It’s one of a set of three
such pieces, all of them full-blown, four-movement sonatas.
Sonata No. 2 in A minor was helped by Fischer’s unsentimental
approach. It’s as peppy a work (minor key notwithstanding)
as you’d expect from this composer, and you can practically
hear the lyrics of an ardent song bursting through in the
affecting melodic lines.
Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F major is a mature work sparkling
with Mendelssohnian froth, especially in the crowd-pleasing
presto that finishes the work. The opening allegro substitutes
passion for profundity, and the performers approached it differently
from the Schubert, adding needed touches of emotion. This
only reinforced the impression that Fischer and Chernyavska
are a protean pair, with not only the virtuoso chops to play
anything, but keen enough insights into what they play to
bring out the spirit of each individual work.
Speaking of Heifetz: As Fischer dug into the encore, Tchaikovsky’s
Melodie, she sounded uncannily like that violinist
on his mid-’40s Decca recording. I’m convinced she can play
anything and make it sound as if it always was meant to sound
that way. All the more reason to celebrate this amazing performer.