Julia Fischer: a Violinist of Stunning Powers

United StatesUnited States  Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, and Saint-Saëns: Julia Fischer (violin), Milana Chernyavska (piano), Benaroya Hall, Seattle 20.2.2012 (BJ)

The press release billed her as “violin superstar,” but Julia Fischer is something much rarer and more impressive than that frivolous category suggests. She is a great musician.

Her recital on Monday in Benaroya Hall was one of the finest I have experienced in more than sixty years of concert-going. This was not the kind of music-making we too often encounter – “business as usual,” it might be called – but an event that demands to be acknowledged in the context of historic achievement.

Not perhaps since Erica Morini retired in 1976 has the public enjoyed the luxury of hearing a violinist with so sovereign a command of the instrument, the bow traversing the strings with impeccable straightness (no lazy pulling away at the end of the stroke), the left hand executing wonders of accurate prestidigitation. Among contemporaries, Leonidas Kavakos, Christian Tetzlaff, Leila Josefowicz, James Ehnes, and the much older Aaron Rosand probably come closest to this extraordinary standard of perfection, but otherwise you have to go back – aside from Morini – to such legendary names as Kreisler, Milstein, Oistrakh, and Grumiaux to find a worthy parallel.

I have most often heard young Ms. Fischer (she is still in her twenties) in music by such composers as Mozart and Bach, and indeed this program began with Mozart: the B-flat-major Sonata, K. 454, which was played with all her familiar elegance, tonal sweetness, and wit (though she was naughty to skip the second repeat in the opening movement). But this time she and her pianist Milana Chernyavska – who deserves a rave notice in her own right – had devised a program that demonstrated how far in more romantic and virtuoso directions her talent extends.

Schubert used to be thought of as a sort of brainless tune-smith; we know better now. His Rondeau brillant has all the rhythmic drive and structural daring familiar from his symphonies and sonatas. Here the violinist, matched every step of the way by the pianist, timed every quirky line (and silence) flawlessly, and showed how even at speed she can range within a second from whispered pianissimo to stunningly grand fortissimo.

After intermission, with Debussy’s only violin sonata and Saint-Saëns’s first one, a beguiling touch of perfume was added to the atmosphere of the playing, yet without ever shortchanging the surprising dynamic force of Debussy or the perhaps equally surprising imaginative power of the unjustly underrated Saint-Saëns. And encores by Ysaÿe and Bloch completed the evening’s pleasure for a regrettably small but wildly enthusiastic audience.

Bernard Jacobson

This review appeared also in the Seattle Times.