REVIEW: Julia Fischer brought understatement and purity of tone to her Schubert Club recital.
On they go, the dauntless female fiddlers in their 20's and 30's who have not-so-quietly upended their profession. No glass ceiling has been more decisively shattered than the one that once confined these young women, who in many cases combine model-like glamour (happily exploited by agents and record companies) with dumbfounding technique, making testosterone-fueled violinists seem almost passé.
A disproportionate number of these svelte spitfires have studied with the Ukrainian-born Ana Chumachenko, a revered, Munich-based teacher who stresses purity of tone, economy of gesture, lightning shifts of mood and a varied vibrato. And among Chumachenko's pupils, who include Lisa Batiashvili and Arabella Steinbacher, none is more accomplished than the extraordinary Julia Fischer, whose Schubert Club recital Wednesday at the Ordway Center with pianist Milana Chernyavska (another Ukrainian) was, despite some questionable program choices, a deeply satisfying musical event.
Nothing on Wednesday's half-Austrian, half-French program was more impressive than its opening: Mozart's B-flat Sonata, K. 454. The wonderful slow introduction was perfectly scaled, neither precious nor overblown; the work's operatic elements were registered without exaggeration. Fischer's bow arm was fluidity itself, her sound room-filling yet never aggressive. Chernyavska matched her exquisitely, her tone round and unpercussive.
Written for a Czech virtuoso, Schubert's "Rondo brillant" is one of his few flirtations with an overtly pyrotechnic style. But the composer, endearingly, can't quite sustain the bravura manner, and reverts periodically to his signature inwardness. Fischer's account, slightly understated, embraced these discontinuities more effectively than did Leila Josefowicz's on the same series last season, but still left me wishing that she'd programmed Schubert's great C-major Fantasy instead.
"An example of what a sick man can write during a war," said the self-disparaging Claude Debussy of the Sonata for Violin and Piano, his last completed composition. Spare in gesture yet abundant in feeling, the piece is a gem -- a précis of the Gallic style as Debussy understood it. Fischer and Chernyavska caught every bit of its melancholy and nostalgia, its irony and coquettishness, its Spanish and gypsy allusions. I've never heard better.
After such miraculous Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns' D-minor Sonata -- also the closer for a 2008 Schubert Club recital by Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk -- seemed a needless concession to the box office. Its sentiments are second-hand; the Adagio, in particular, tastes of artificial sweetener. And on Wednesday the inevitable ovation sounded as if written into the score.