Julia Fischer, one of the great violinists of her generation, has long reached the level of fame and attraction where it doesn’t matter in the least what she plays, so long as she does play. And she will fill halls, even with a work that has neither a lobby nor a strong reputation. Like the Dvořák Violin Concerto which she performed with the Munich Philharmonic on June 22nd and 23rd.
It is only right that a violinist like Julia Fischer play this work, a conductor like Yakov Kreizberg conduct it, and an orchestra like the Munich Philharmonic play it – because in these hands the work has every opportunity to shine. In lesser hands it would merely reinforce the modest opinions many listeners have of it.
Dvořák, Violin Concerto, "Dumky" Trio, Isabelle Faust (Queyras, Melnikov) / Prague Philharmonic / Belohlavek
That was, incidentally, exactly what happened. Explosive, with plenty enthusiasm and undeterred by individual mistakes, the orchestra followed Kreizberg (whose brother had been much in Munich, recently) into the score while Mlle. Fischer executed her part with the expected skill and grace. With subtle tension – especially in the lyrical parts of the Adagio – with elegance and filigree playing she turned the concerto, Cinderella-like, from musical pumpkin into vehicle worthy of a princess. At least for 35 minutes. The Finale especially, Brahmsian in its bohemian folkish rhythm and melody, is a firework of color and exuberance. Who could care about accusations of the work lacking depth when faced with something quite so enjoyable? Julia Fischer’s Paganini encores – Caprices no.10 and 2 – were not much more than glorified finger exercises, the latter, in b-minor, at least with musical merit.
Tchaikovsky, Manfred Symphony, Symphonic Poems, Russian National Orchestra / Michail Pletnev
Bass clarinets and bassoons get their 15 minutes of fame in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony – Tchaikovsky’s fifth, had he included it in his canon of symphonies. While the Dvořák concerto may be well served by a good interpretation alone, the Manfred Symphony, though easy enough on the ears, is a more demanding work. It can baffle even as it delights – incomprehension does not bar enjoyment. It is good to know Byron’s dramatic poem that Tchaikovsky puts into music – and how. But the Manfred Symphony could also be taken as absolute music – a four movement symphonic work, strange and phantastical.
If so, the third movement Pastorale would surely raise the fewest question marks: It’s a beautiful and dainty affair, undermined only (and not much) by the Manfred theme that rears its head and the bells that till as if to remind that the carefree episode will come to a grim end, soon. The fourth movement was perfectly musical mayhem and positive chaos under Kreizberg. How better to depict a civilized hell than Tchaikovsky does here? And yet the question comes up: ‘Wouldn’t it be hell, indeed, if music could only sound like this?’
Winds and horns contributed faultlessly to an concentrated but not very aromatic performance that had greater individual moments than it offered a great whole.