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Brahms and Schumann: Julia Fischer (violin) / Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra / Yakov Kreizberg (conductor). Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. 03.12.2006. (ED)


Brahms Violin concerto in D, op. 77
Schumann Symphony no 2 in C, op. 61



This Sunday matinee concert at the Concertgebouw presented two works in highly involving performances.


The opening movement of the Brahms concerto began in stately fashion with contributions of certainty from the cellos and basses. Texturally alert winds and subtly graded string dynamics were also evident from early on. If Kreizberg’s favoured tempo was a touch on the slow side, it was not over-lingering at least. Julia Fischer, the artist in residence with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, brought cleanness of line and assurance to her playing of the solo part, which showed awareness of the wider musical context. In repeated passages the phrasing was carefully shaded to show some difference from the initial appearance of the same material. In fortissimo phrases her tone was steely and dominant, but this was largely balanced elsewhere by more introvert contributions: the lovely sotto voce playing in the cadenza, for example. 


The second movement had a feeling of organic growth about it, from which Fischer’s violin part seemed to emerge naturally. In this respect, she was no doubt aided by the famously warm and generous acoustic of the Concertgebouw’s large hall. Unforced answering phrases darted back and forth between soloist and orchestra.  If momentarily it risked becoming an understated performance, this was curtailed when the music shifted to the minor key, injecting it with a different dramatic impetus, even though Fischer largely maintained the lingering spell in her playing. A pity perhaps, that more of the interplay between the orchestral strings was not exploited as the violins were not divided stage left and right.


The closing movement was deliciously upbeat and unhackneyed. Fischer threw out the solo part with disconcerting ease and a total lack of affectation. The orchestral tuttis were full and uncloying, as can so easily become the case. Kreizberg encouraged a guttural growl of real menace from the basses and if the solo became momentarily reflective, so much greater was the ebullient gallop towards the end in the closing pages of the score. Bravura playing all round, but in the best sense of the term.


Schumann’s Second symphony was from the outset full of portent-laden statements in the strings, with long paragraphs punctuated by emphatic bass-line intrusions. Perhaps the transition into the movement was a touch over-laboured by Kreizberg, but once past this moment, the various elements of depression and ecstasy that one finds in this music were energetically opposed. Kreizberg pressed his players hard to keep a brisk tempo at the end, yet he found variety within the overall dynamic. The second movement continued much in the same vein, but was noticeably more rustic in its overall sound-world. Use of vibrato differentiated the instrumental tones on offer. With the closing accelerando daringly tackled, Kreizberg showed he is a conductor that urges spirit in the orchestral playing, whilst securing exactitude also.


The Adagio was immediately more sombre: clarinets sounded soulful, but bassoons contrasted with some piquancy. The movement overall was lent character most effectively through observance of the structural blend of psychological pressure against lighter moments. The final movement was urgently played and was expressive of the deeper emotions brewing under the surface of the work as a whole. Blazing chords at full strength gave the reading a showstopping element, but alongside that, the lower strings – as so often in this concert – proved to be decisive in shaping the structure and phrasing with apt grandeur.




Evan Dickerson



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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)