sure can play: Fischer.
College Memorial Chapel, April 29
heard violinist Julia Fischer play one wrong note—and only
one—during her recital last week at Union College’s Memorial
Chapel. It was during a busy section of Prokofiev’s Sonata
No. 1, and it was a small and unremarkable moment. Nevertheless,
it should suffice to satisfy George Bernard Shaw’s advice
to the young Jascha Heifetz, in 1920, that he should play
one wrong note every night before going to bed to appease
a jealous god.
Fischer’s playing is similarly faultless. She is daunted by
no technical difficulty; her interpretive depth—she’s only
26!—is similarly astonishing. For her third Union College
Concert Series appearance, with her equally amazing pianist
Milana Chernyavska, Fischer performed four sonatas that complemented
one another beautifully.
Prokofiev’s classical-era roots resonated nicely with the
Mozart and Beethoven sonatas flanking his piece; Bohuslav
Martinu’s Sonata No. 3, which concluded the concert,
is like the Prokofiev on steroids.
The opening strains of Mozart’s Sonata in C Major,
set the tone for the piece as a whole: the piano is busy,
trilling and turning notes as it cascades down a series of
triad inversions. The violin doubles the sequence without
the filigree, but the piano leads the way, leaving the fiddle
a less-than-busy partner.
Oh, but the piece drips with charm: It is Mozart at his sunniest,
and Chernyavska displayed the fleetness of touch to enrich
that radiance. Here, Fischer and Chernyavska proved their
interpretive mettle: Even in a piece as relatively uncomplicated
as this Mozart sonata, they found a different, more mature
emotional center for that recap. You’d never miss it if they
didn’t do it, but the journey was more satisfying for them
having done so.
Likewise each recurrence of the main theme of the third movement.
Per tradition, the movement is a rondo, bringing the theme
back repeatedly, but each time, although the notes were the
same, the feeling was altered, acknowledging the new distance
Prokofiev wrote his Violin Sonata No. 1 after returning
to his native Russia following many years abroad, and it echoes
those earlier years, when his compositional voice was at its
most percussive, while adding profound depths of introspection
(selections from it were played at the composer’s funeral).
The violin’s tentative entry, following a brooding series
of piano chords, suggested that here, as in the Mozart, the
violinist might be playing second fiddle. As the melodic line
grew busier and more gutsy, I feared that Fischer would maintain
her sweet-sounding Mozart voice. But not at all. She wailed
into a passage of double-stops and continued roaring, whispering,
singing her way through the shifting moods that followed.
In fact, her interpretive voice is so finely tuned to the
work at hand that she brought out an unexpected layer of lyricism
in the spiky second movement, and in the third, an andante,
she found yet another plaintive, lovely tone for her part
of the Schubertian byplay between violin and piano.
Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8, which opened the concert’s
second half, is as much of a lighthearted romp in a Beethovenian
way as was the Mozart sonata, in this case opening with a
warm-up run doubled by piano and violin before they go streaking
up a G-major chord, separating only as the piano chortles
over the ascent and the violin responds triumphantly.
They played it fast and fleetly and full of good humor, not
forgetting the joke at the end of the third movement when
the players suddenly find themselves in E-flat major and struggle
to get back to the home key.
Bohemian composer Martinu wrote the last of his three violin
sonatas in 1943, while living in the U.S., but it features
folk-like elements redolent of his native land. A bright piano
introduction to the opening poco allegro summons the violin
to offer a characteristic dance theme peppered with answering
piano commentary. The whole sonata is a study in propulsion,
and this movement never stops, never even flags until it gives
way to the adagio that follows.
In terms of energy, the sonata peaks in the third-movement
scherzo: over six minutes of whirling, nonstop excitement.
A game of melodic tag bounces along in 6/8 time with delightful
echo sequences—and the violinist has virtuoso technical challenges
throughout. A muted, contrasting (but still fiery) middle
section builds like one of Bach’s solo violin allegros. But
the climax of the piece is the concluding lento. Again, the
melody is wistful, plaintive, classical in its simplicity,
with characteristically unexpected turns and contrasts.
It’s a virtuoso challenge, and both players were in top form.
When they left the stage, to a standing ovation, there was
nothing they could play that could have topped this, and they
wisely left us free of encores.