This disc does not offer much in the way of diversity. Out
of the four tone poems, only Suk’s Fantasy is close to
a concerto in its variety of mood, big orchestral gusts and
violin bravura. The other three are more like orchestral tapestries
with the leading part taken by the violin. Much of the music
is pastoral, reflective – and poetic, which is echoed in the
titles of the works and of the entire album. As Julia Fischer
tells in an interview which can be accessed from her site, the
idea was to put together four works that belong to more or less
same period and style. By laying out the similarities, especially
of the three shorter works - the more extrovert Suk departs
most significantly from the rest - the performers also manage
to underline their differences. This is ingenious. Indeed, for
me the three works always belonged to the same “cloud” of soft,
pastoral music. But when they are put side by side, I saw how
very different they were. I now know each one of them much better
and more deeply.
Respighi’s Poema autunnale is melancholic and
nostalgic, but not sad. This music is amorphous. It lives in
the moment. The feelings pass by slowly, like leaves in the
autumn air. This is music of meditation, of external beauty
that belongs to the Nature, where we are only the beholders.
There is a more active episode, with folksy character – depicting
autumn festivities. Respighi referred in his program to fauns
Suk’s Fantasy starts as a stormy ballad. It is essentially
a one-movement violin concerto in free form, with lyrical and
agitated episodes. It at times bears an uncanny resemblance
to the contemporary Sibelius Concerto. There aren’t many works
that can claim that. Even so it retains an unmistakable Czech
face. The violin writing is masterful and virtuosic; the sound
is not heavy even in the loudest places. We witness a sequence
of beautifully painted characteristic scenes.
In Chausson’s Poème the gloomy, troubled introduction
leads into the main Allegro. There are typical romantic
climaxes along the way. The violin sings, here even more than
in the other works. This is the passionate heart of this collection.
The recording balance puts the violin more forward, which certainly
favours this piece. It seems that the balance was set differently
for each work: in the Vaughan Williams, for example, the violin
blends more with the orchestra, as if growing from its center.
This is also very fitting for this work.
The Lark Ascending shares the relaxed mood of the Respighi,
but its music is more thematically unified. The middle episode
is vigorous and joyous, clearly based on the English folk tradition.
The lark ascends on air currents and updrafts. The violin is
the lark, and the orchestra is the supporting air. The orchestration
is for the most part sparse, transparent, just sufficient to
support the violin-bird, which soars and circles, and in the
end disappears into the vast and open firmament, leaving us
with the feeling of happiness and freedom.
The violin is a demanding instrument. Until you reach a certain
level, anything will sound amateur; after you reached it, even
the simple scales sound beautiful. It’s not like this with the
piano, for example. But there is the next step, which distinguishes
between just good playing – and that aaaah feeling. Julia
Fischer gives us this aaaah constantly. She knows how
to make beautiful notes and phrases, yet plays without schmaltz
and utmost sincerity. As in an impressionist painting, where
one wrong brushstroke can ruin the harmony, here one poorly
judged intonation can break the balance. Fischer is very careful
with her sounds, and each one is measured and blended into the
fabric. She does not yet “own” these pieces, is still a bit
timid around them and some strain is evident in the dense passages.
But all this, in my eyes, only adds poignancy. The tone of her
instrument is not too pretty: sometimes a bit metallic, but
never thin – it is a strong mezzo-soprano. This “naturalness”
brings it closer to the human voice, and grips the soul.
The orchestra conducted by Yakov Kreizberg is a true partner,
agile and light. In the more lyrical places, the softly murmuring
orchestra weaves radiant veils and helps to create that autumnal
ambience. Kreizberg chooses breathing tempi and varies them
wisely. All soloing instruments, especially the woodwinds, are
excellent. The entire disc radiates purity.
This was the last recording made by Yakov Kreizberg. May the
memory of him be as beautiful and pure as this music. When the
musician goes forever, the music remains. Let me quote the ending
of George Meredith’s poem The Lark Ascending, which inspired
the music that closes this beautiful and eloquent disc:-
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.