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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Double Concerto in A minor Op.102 (1887) [31:57]
Violin Concerto in D Op.77 (1878) [40.31]
Julia Fischer (violin)
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Amsterdam/Yakov Kreizberg
rec. Yakult Hall, Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam, December 2005 (Double Concerto) and December 2006 (Violin Concerto)
PENTATONE PTC 5186 066 [72:59]

Another month, another Julia Fischer. Her last, an all-Tchaikovsky disc, seems to have received almost unanimous acclaim so that my own sour note of dissent (see review) must have seemed critical aberration. I’m afraid that I shall to reprise my own comments with regard to her Brahms Concerto and my objections remain constant; insufficient metrical control with allied agogic exaggerations and questionable reliance on too complex a series of dynamics.

It’s as well to get these concerns aired now and to ally them with her Tchaikovsky. In both cases the gravest areas of concern fall in the long first movements where opportunities to indulge such mannerisms are at their most enticing. I willingly concede she is a fine player with a sweet, core tone and beguilingly sensitive instincts. But something is going to have to change with regard to her feeling for architectural cogency. Much of this is attributable to a lack of rhythmic control.

Kreizberg, whose accompaniments for Fischer have been all too complaisant of her instincts for the precious and rhapsodic, is at it again here. The inherent instability of the first movement is absolute when musicians act thus; the queasily sentimentalised moments, the push and pull of the rubato, the vertiginous dynamics, all create a sense of instability and architectural weakness. When the nuts and bolts are compromised things seldom recover, however attractive one’s tone or however sensitive is the interplay with woodwind principals. Try one point after the cadenza; how beautifully, indeed refulgently sweet and lyric is Fischer’s phrasing - and how little it matters because so unfocused has she been to the basic pulse of the music making. It’s nothing to do with timings; it’s everything to do with phraseology and tempo relationships.

The slow movement is better – indeed often fine. But unnecessary diminuendi draw attention to themselves a little too archly and that impedes the naturalness of the music making. Given their essentially bracing tempo the finale should perhaps sound more characterful and vibrant than it actually does. A certain rawness of tone wouldn’t go amiss but Fischer is here wedded to constant purity of tone, which imparts a rather limited vitality to her playing.

Coupled with the concerto is the Double Concerto where Fischer is joined by Daniel Müller-Schott. In the main the performance explores the concerto’s lighter side, its more affectionate moments of felicity. The opening movement sees the cellist, whom I suppose to be reserving his tone, responding powerfully and yet with sensitivity toward his violinist colleague. I don’t know how they sound together on stage but I think it’s likely that her tone doesn’t project as powerfully as his and this would cause ensemble imbalances. Still on disc we can forget these concerns. The slow movement is lyric, and graciously weighted toward chamber intimacies; there are especially finely judged ensembles with the clarinet principal. And the finale has a certain skittish bravura that will appeal to those who fight shy of the concerto’s sometimes more leaden aggression in other hands. In the end though there’s a lack of heft in the tutti passages and a rather circumscribed tonal palette that means that its appeal would be somewhat limited – a deft performance, certainly, but not one that really probes too far.

The evidence of Fischer’s Tchaikovsky and Brahms seems to me clear; far greater concentration on the rhythmic nature of the concerto fabric is needed for truly effective performances.

Jonathan Woolf


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