German violinist Julia Fischer is in the U.S. for a whirlwind concert tour that, to our good fortune, included a stop at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue for a performance in the WPAS Encore Series. She was absolutely wonderful.
I came to know Julia Fischer via Mozart, and indeed she began her Saturday evening performance with his “Sonata for piano and violin in B-flat major.” Performed with her accomplished concert partner Milana Chernyavaska, it was beautiful, and as always, in tune, precise, well-phrased, and pleasing. Because I follow Julia Fischer and know that she doesn’t miss on Mozart, I expected nothing less. What I did not expect followed.
“Schubert’s Rondo Brillant in B minor for violin and piano” was second on the program, and from the first note, Fischer proved her versatility, demonstrating an exciting range of personal emotion and technical ability that I did not know she had. I do not mean this in a negative way at all. I have never heard Julia Fischer play anything I did not like and enjoy. It’s just that I didn’t know that she would let go with the rest, and the contrast was exhilarating. From total control, she seemed suddenly free. I loved her brilliant highs played against rough and deep lows, the dramatic tension in the long and extended phrases that suddenly released to almost playful and delicate moments of bliss. I honestly don’t know if what I witnessed was a maturing and more confident Fischer, or if I simply did not understand her range. Either way, it was a very pleasant discovery. And this was just what happened before intermission.
During intermission I took a moment to take in the beauty of the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. I have never met a stained glass window, an arch, a column, a domed ceiling, or a creaky wooden floor I did not love. Sixth and I has all of the above and more. I normally attend concerts that take place in very large concert halls, but I always enjoy the experience of Sixth and I, and I love to see historic buildings shared and put to use in the way that Sixth and I does so well.
The second half of the program opened with Claude Debussy’s Sonata for violin and piano in G minor, his final work. The sonata is a simply gorgeous work, brimming with emotional contrast and perhaps reflective of the tumultuous emotions of a brilliant composer ravaged by the unrelenting and brutal cancer that would end his life but not his musical legacy. I could not wait to hear what Fischer would do with this work, and she did not disappoint.
The final programmed piece of the evening came in the form of the Saint-Saens Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, a virtuoso piece best performed by a virtuoso. Julia qualified. With electrifying speed and precision that seemed almost humanly impossible, she simply conquered the work and the audience, who observed in what I would call stunned amazement. Three encores later, the audience was still hoping for more. Julia’s got what it takes, and I’m happy to see and hear the risks that she is now taking. A truly great musician is emerging and the world is rejoicing.
Next up at Sixth and I is NPR’s Rob Kapilow and What Makes It Great? The Beethoven Cello Sonata, performed by one of my favorite cellists, the incomparable Zuill Bailey with pianist Yulia Gorenman. Trust me. Don’t miss this.
Julia Fischer plays Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major KV 218. Conductor Jeffrey Tate, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Turin. This is the first part of the first movement.
Watch Virtuoso Violinist Julia Fischer: A TV Portrait.