January 22, 2009

What Joy, what Naturalness!

Julia Fischer joins the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields


Benjamin Britten
Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concert for Violin, String Orchestra and Basso continuo a minor
Concert for Violin, String Orchestra and Basso continuo e-major

William Walton
Sonata for String Orchestra


Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Julia Fischer - Violin and musical director

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

What Joy, what Naturalness!

Julia Fischer joins the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

by Nancy Chapple / Fotos: KASSKARA (Fischer), Mike Hogan (Academy)

Julia Fischer

A special program: 25-year old Julia Fischer performed two Bach violin concerti with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and also directed the string orchestra in works by Britten and Walton—soloist, concertmistress, and evidently responsible for the musical concept. Despite her youth and diminutive presence, Ms. Fischer radiates physical confidence and is a natural musical leader. The respected Academy, celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, seemed pleased to work with her.

Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, his composition teacher, form a series of character pieces. The Aria italiana provided a first high point: almost kitschy and yet just right in hesitations and overall timing. The Wiener Walzer provided an opportunity to enjoy the first violist. The Moto perpetuo was full of temperament—certainly tricky to play together at this tempo, but impressively rendered. The Funeral March offered deliberate tension between the rich sound of the low strings and the intense sound of the high ones. The Fugue was also taken at an ambitious tempo that worked.

Two minutes into Bach's a-minor Concerto I had tears in my eyes: what joy, what naturalness! And in fact it was Julia Fischer's recording of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin that tipped us off: this is a violinist to take notice of. As always, it was Bach's genius as well that astounded: we plunge right into the middle of a complex yet approachable story, with a cast of characters, varied colors. The slow movement was unfortunately not engaging, despite the clearly discernible long phrases. In the e-major Concerto, the quiet passages felt intimate in a way rarely dared by a solo instrumentalist. Both first movements were perhaps too fast. Ms. Fischer's sound is a bit small. Compared to other young violinists we've been attending to, she lacks Janine Jansen's incredible enthusiasm and dynamism, but seems a more mature, finished musician than Hilary Hahn.

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Foto: Mike Hoban

The impressive ensemble of twenty string players was in constant eye contact and appeared delighted to be working together. Soloist and orchestra completely integrated their sound in the concerti. Playing without a conductor, the musical concept and drive seemed to comes from within rather than being imposed from the outside.

The most delightful surprise of the evening was William Walton's Sonata for String Orchestra, arranged by the composer on the basis of his own a-minor String Quartet from 1945-6. The dialogues between the four individual quartet voices and the four tutti groups were fascinating. The layered entrances of the fugal passages in the first and last movements provided impressive examples of 20th-century counterpoint. The piece's harmonies and melodies were as approachable as a movie score, and yet the musical character changed too fleetly to accompany a story line. Again in the Lento, the solo viola was wonderful. The syncopated Allegro molto was rhythmically enjoyable, and the soloist quartet continued their seamless dialogue.

There was a strange restiveness in the hall: a cell phone went off at the tremendously quiet finish to the Britten Finale; wintertime coughing was endemic between movements and in the slow movements as well; several listeners left the hall just a minute before the final chord of a work. The encore, the Andante con moto from a Janacek suite, provided more of the silky, rich sound so typical of the orchestra—though Klassik-in-Berlin's webmaster would have appreciated an even peppier finale to a lovely evening.