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She sure can play: Fischer.

Youth Taking Flight

By B.A. Nilsson

Julia Fischer

Union College Memorial Chapel, April 29

I 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 we’d traveled.

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.

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