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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
Cool Julia Fischer leaves listener cold
Arts & Entertainment
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Cool Julia Fischer leaves listener cold

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Violinist Julia Fischer
February 20
Benaroya Hall


Julia Fischer is a German violinist of consummate power and refined taste. She is also a beautiful woman. Putting her together with a fine pianist should have yielded a memorable recital. There were a few memorable moments in this program, but my enjoyment was dampened by a mysterious factor. Whereas violinist Hilary Hahn a few months ago conquered this same venue, giving us an unforgettable experience, Fischer only occasionally made us forget the nearly empty hugeness of Benaroya Hall. The vastness of the stage fought her music-making instead of embracing it.

Why was the physically fragile-looking Hahn such a powerful presence, while this robust Germanic beauty left us with only an academic appreciation of her talents? I think we are talking about two different kinds of artists: one is outgoing, warm, and determined to show you musical stuff you didn't know, while the other is cool, perfect, and requires you to come to her and appreciate her art. If the two are of equal musical and technical gifts, I prefer the former - thus my less than ecstatic response to Fischer.

The Mozart 'Violin Sonata in B-flat major, K. 454' that opened the concert was lovely. Fischer made her Guadagnini violin (from 1742) sing beautifully. It was all so perfect. I sat there wondering why I wasn't more entranced. Then came Schubert's 'Rondeau Brillant in B minor.' It was technically impressive but rather long-winded and overall disappointing.

Only after intermission did the temperature rise, thanks to a brilliant reading of the 'Violin Sonata No. 3' (1917) by Claude Debussy. Fischer and her partner, Milana Chernyavska, whipped up exciting, constantly surprising confections of sound, guiding us into Debussy's genius with a clarity and passion that could not be denied. The coolness melted in this French fire, which was easily the most exciting Debussy I have ever heard. The Saint-Saëns 'Violin Sonata No. 1' that followed seemed a letdown, despite its melodic beauties and fertile imagination.

Only in the second of two encores (after Ysaye's 'Andante'), Ernest Bloch's 'Nigun from 'Baal Shem' heated up the room again. Indeed, the Bloch was a great way to end the evening, for it was spectacular in its warmth and passion. The sparse audience showed its appreciation with cheers and standing ovations. I would eagerly attend this artist's next appearance, but hopefully in a more intimate venue (for recital work) or supported by a full orchestra.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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