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Seen and Heard  International Concert Review


Dvořák, Golijov, and Walton: Gerard Schwarz, cond., Julia Fischer, violin, Charles Robert Austin, bass-baritone, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 16.6.2006 (BJ)



Of all the dazzling young violinists currently before the public, Julia Fischer, still in her early 20s, may well be accounted the dazzlingest. A time when performers of the caliber of Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, and Rachel Barton, and such of their male counterparts as Leonidas Kavakos, Anthony Marwood, and Daniel Hope, are to be heard must surely be reckoned a fortunate time for us listeners. To be sure, there are practitioners of more questionable talent making big careers, but then that has always been the case. The last time I had heard the Dvořák's Violin Concerto in concert, a year or so ago, the soloist was Sarah Chang, and friends with generally excellent judgement told me afterwards that they didn’t think much of the piece. This was a sad conclusion in the face of such a wonderful work, but I think it was due entirely to the shortcomings of the performance. In particular, it did not seem to have occurred to the widely admired soloist that to ladle vibrato copiously all over Dvořák's magical Adagio was inevitably to rob it of any sense of repose, and in consequence to destroy all its inherent contrast with the quicker movements that surround it.

Julia Fischer made no such mistake. I hardly knew which to admire more: the authority and sparkle of her bow- and finger-work in the outer movements, or the consummate warmth and tranquillity she brought to the Adagio. This is not merely a brilliant fiddler, but a musician of astonishing intelligence and depth–a musician surely destined to rank among the great violinists of all time. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, who partnered her worthily, made their own big impact also in the two other works on the program. To start the program, they presented a roughly 15-minute piece for double string orchestra entitled Last Round by Osvaldo Golijov. Stemming from the tango tradition, and designed as a tribute to the dance’s celebrated exponent Astor Piazzolla, this was the first work by Golijov–at 45, already a power in his own right on the international scene–that I have heard. Contrary to what I was expecting on the basis of what I have read about him, this was no facile crowd-pleasing exercise, but a predominantly dark-hued composition of impressive tonal logic and emotional force. Obviously, I must explore the rest of his output.

After intermission, the orchestra was joined by its associated chorus – skillfully prepared for this concert by Christian Knapp – and bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin in Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. This was a nostalgic experience for me: the big, brash cantata, with its extra brass groups disposed among the audience, its propulsive rhythms, and its exhilarating interplay of incisive diatonic dissonance with moments of calm release, is a piece I heard frequently in my youth. The soloist in those days was almost always an English baritone named Dennis Noble, whom I hardly ever heard sing anything else. It is some time now since I encountered a live performance of the work, but it seemed on this occasion to have worn very well, and the performance was electrifying. The choral work was spirited, the orchestra clearly on its toes, and Mr. Austin a strong-voiced match for any of his predecessors in the important solo part. Throughout the proceedings, Maestro Schwarz demonstrated the combination of verve with pinpoint control over even the most complex texture and the most hectic accelerando that seems characteristic of all his work. And the lovely wistful moment just before the end, to the words “The trumpeters and pipers are silent,” showed us also how touchingly expressive he can be. A superb concert, then, in every respect.




Bernard Jacobson


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)