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Julia Fischer @ 6th and I

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Poème (Chausson et al.), J. Fischer

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Paganini, 24 Caprices, J. Fischer

Of all the violinists performing today, Julia Fischer is the one we most want to hear. The German violinist may not have the strongest bow arm, the fastest left hand, or the most daring interpretation, but she has the most compelling sound, a consistently seductive tone, nearly flawless intonation and execution, and an Apollonian grace. It goes without saying that Fischer's recital on Saturday night, presented by Washington Performing Arts Society at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue, was a cultural imperative. While not without its troubles -- mechanical and tuning issues with the piano in the first half, a few rare infelicities in Fischer's sound (proving she does walk the earth after all), and a perfectly timed, disastrous cell phone ring that likely spoiled the recording being made for Sirius/XM Radio -- it was well worth the wait to hear Fischer again, returning to the area for the first time since appearing with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in 2009 (not counting the 2010 WPAS recital she had to cancel).

Opening a first-half pairing of Austrian music was a tender, almost rhapsodic reading of Mozart's B♭ major violin sonata, K. 454. The fast movements were plenty fast, revealing Ukrainian pianist Milana Chernyavska and her agile, clean touch at the keyboard to be a fine match for Fischer. The slow movement had a leisurely elegance, with a rueful turn to minor, while the closing movement, in a chipper duple pulse, had a blithe, tripping quality. The Mozart overshadowed Schubert's Rondo brillant in B Minor, D. 895, that followed it, a piece that even the strong musicianship on hand could not quite validate. Fischer and her accompanist gave the melting aria in the middle a melancholy tinge and some dramatic turns elsewhere, but it does go on. It confirmed my feelings about Fischer's recordings of the Schubert violin pieces -- and the pieces themselves, in some cases -- as less than captivating.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Violinist Julia Fischer shows both focus and range in Sixth and I Synagogue recital (Washington Post, February 20)

Larry Fuchsberg, Violinist's sound fills the Ordway Center (Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 17)

Rob Hubbard, Violinist Julia Fischer dazzles with Debussy range in Schubert Club recital (Twin Cities Pioneer Press, February 15)
More pleasing was the all-French second half, beginning with Debussy's violin sonata in G minor, completed shortly before the composer's death in 1918 and as ingenious and compact as it is steeped in tragic contemplation of mortality and war. The first movement, harmonically unpredictable, was mercurial but also had a translucent kind of tone, watercolor swishes with some vivid flourishes. A puckish wit, with flexible rubato perfectly aligned between the two players, came out in the second movement, with a slow transition into the dizzying third movement, living up to its "very animated" tempo marking in every way. The enigmatic Debussy, a memorable piece played memorably, was followed by a brazen showpiece, Saint-Saëns's first violin sonata, op. 75. Chernyavska shone even more brightly here, giving agitated fervor to the devilish piano part, transparent and effortlessly shapely in spite of the torrents of notes. The Adagio part of the first movement rose out of the turmoil, a gentle dance, leading to an impish waltz in the third movement, with an elegant melodic overlay in the violin in the trio. Both musicians created a thrilling conclusion by taking the final section at a daring speed, pushing the edge of safety.

This full meal was capped by three encores, none of them expected chestnuts, beginning with a nod to the venue's beginnings as a synagogue, Ernst Bloch's Nigun, the second movement of Baal Shem, an impassioned cantillation. Piling on the diversions, Fischer followed it with Tchaikovsky's Mélodie, op. 42/3, from Souvenir d’un lieu cher, and an Andante movement by Eugène Ysaÿe, composed as the slow movement of an abandoned concerto.

The next WPAS recital will feature pianist Yefim Bronfman (March 2, 8 pm), in the Music Center at Strathmore.

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