Monday, October 18, 2010


St. Annes Church
October 16

The multitalented Ms. Fischer.
There are certainly more accomplished violin soloists than Julia Fischer, but it’s hard to think of one who is more enjoyable to see perform live. She combines technical skill and expression with a straightforward yet dynamic approach that puts her own distinctive stamp on the music while respecting, and often enhancing, its beauty and strength. The effect can be mesmerizing.

Fischer is all business on stage. For her Strings of Autumn appearance at St. Anne’s Church on Saturday night, she wore a simple black top and subdued print skirt, hair tied back in a no-nonsense ponytail. She launched into the program with no introduction; only an occasional nod to her accompanist or smile during the applause broke her demeanor of focused concentration.

Fischer opened with Ysaye’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor for solo violin, in keeping with her appreciation for works typically considered challenging practice pieces (last month she released a recording of Paganini’s Caprices). Technically it was brilliant, especially the bowing. Fischer has a delicate but deliberate style that was showcased nicely by this work, as she seemed to glide from cool to heated passages, sharp notes to sweet, without effort. The tempo was brisk, but the fine work was all clean and clear.

Pianist Milana Chernyavska joined her for the second piece, Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, in which both instruments have a strong voice. Fischer could easily play programs where the violin dominates, and no one would complain. It’s a mark of her confidence and professionalism that she chooses works that call for balance and interplay, and in that sense she and Chernyavska are a good fit. Both performers struck a warm, lyrical tone that jelled as the piece developed, playing in a fluid, single voice by the third movement. The finale was rousing yet disciplined, a sterling example of how to build energy and momentum without sacrificing control.

Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 10 in G major is another work that gives equal weight to both instruments, and Fischer and Chernyavska gave it their own burnish, lending the music a silky feel. They were totally in synch, working the changing tempo seemingly by telepathy, playing sublime soft passages that segued almost imperceptibly into sharp, racing duets. It was perhaps not the Beethoven that some purists would approve, but it was a captivating and self-assured interpretation.

The capacity crowd called the duo out for two encores. The first, a Tchaikovsky selection, gave Fischer a chance to show off her virtuoso skills, which are dazzling. The second, a Ysaye movement, was perhaps the least satisfying piece of the evening, a bit out of balance, but again, technically impressive.

What may be most striking about Fischer is the maturity and restraint she shows, uncommon in a person so young (27). At least, that’s how it appears. Inasmuch as Fischer has been playing and studying music since the age of three, and won her first international violin competition at the age of 11, she would no doubt dispute the “young” characterization. Still, it’s remarkable to see anyone play with the combination of intelligence, poise and technical mastery that Fischer brings to the stage, much less someone who is still shy of 30.

All that, and she’s an accomplished concert pianist, too.

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