Sunday, April 26, 2009

Julia Fischer Recital: Martinu and Prokofiev + Beethoven and Mozart

The new crop of violin virtuosi, such as the subject of this review and Stefan Jackiw naming two examples, have received less mainstream media attention than some the new crop of piano masters. Frankly, the two violinists mentioned are, to me, more substantial musicians, providing penetrating, dramatic, musical and technically brilliant performances of a wide repertoire. They do more than just play the standard repertoire faster and louder than anyone else.

As noted, I consider Juila Fischer an exception to the trend of technique over music. Her recital last night was a well considered program of high spirited familiar works coupled with two shattering sonatas written in the shadow of the devastation of WWII. Trust me, she and her brilliant accompanist Milana Chernyavska have technique aplenty. But they use it to communicate, not so demonstrate.

The superbly conceived program began with the lyrical C Major Violin Sonata K. 296 by Mozart, followed by Prokofiev's dramatic Sonata # 1 in f minor op 80. The second half consisted of the bubbly Beethoven Sonata # 8 op. 30 # 3 and concluded with the powerful and seldom heard Martinu Sonata # 3 H 303 from 1944.

Mozart's Sonata was still a child of the era when a duo sonata was dominated by the keyboard with the solo more of an obbligato part. Pianist Chernyavska took advantage of the elaborate keyboard part and turned in an incisive but always lyrical performance. Fischer was somewhat in the background but her technique and musicianship dialogued well with the piano. This was a somewhat romantic (yet never affected or artificial) Mozart performance as I generally like them; gently lyrical when needed, as in the lullaby-like Andante and bouncy and fleet in the outer movements.

The Prokofiev could not have been cast from a more different mold. Dark, brooding and flowing with the Russian soul (Chernyavska was outstanding in this regard), the performance left the audience breathless. The tension throughout the piece, one of Prokofiev's darker and more violent works, was at the breaking point; I would have excused anyone who audibly broke down. Fischer negotiated the muted "freddo" or "cold" passages in the 1st and 4th movements perfectly, creating the windy, ghostly effect Prokofiev desired. Chernyavska's masterful pedal work kept the tricky triplet 16th notes in the andante shimmering but clearly distinct, some of the most incredible piano work I have ever heard. By the end of this shattering piece, Fischer's tone slipped a bit, but still left the audience in that rarely achieved state of total silence at the end of a piece, as their physical presence caught up with the emotions of the performance. Simply outstanding.

After a well deserved intermission, the brisk and graceful Beethoven also lightened the mood somewhat. If the Mozart was romantic, then the Beethoven was wonderfully classical and crisp. The dance like last movement threatened to break out into a wine fueled Octoberfest bringing the work to a buoyant conclusion.

As in the first half, the second work hailed from the concluding years of WWII. The Martinu 3rd, more romantic and lyrical than expected from this somewhat coldly classical composer, had more in common with Rachmaninoff (the opening piano passage could have been written by Sergei himself) than Stravinsky. Tinged with nostalgia and Slavic inspired melody, Fischer soared over the dense yet clearly articulated accompaniment. One could hear the ghosts of WWII, exile and hope for an end to conflict in the wistful adagio. The fleet, dancing scherzo was another demonstration of the rapport between Fischer and Chernyavska. The nostalgia for a lost world continued in the final movement with its jazz influenced second theme symbolizing hope for a brighter future.

I got to attend this recital at the last minute, due to a friend not being able to use his tickets. As it is so many times, it is the unplanned events that turn out to be most special. This was a concert to savor and remember.

Note to myself and readers, make a point of hearing Fischer when you can.. and also the equally superb Milana Chernyavska.

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