Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Poema autunnale (1920-25) [14:23]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Fantasy in D minor (1903), Op.24 [24:48]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème, Op.25 (1896) [16:05]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Lark Ascending (1914/20) [14:27]
Julia Fischer (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Yakov Kreizberg
rec. November 2010, Auditorium Rainier III, Monte-Carlo. DDD.
DECCA 478 2684 [69:59]

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 and bacchantes.

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.

Oleg Ledeniov

The entire disc radiates purity.