It’s exciting when someone who is in the middle of a run at lasting fame comes through town. Last year, Arts & Lectures scored big with one of Esperanza Spalding’s first concerts after winning the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist. German violinist Julia Fischer, who appeared at Campbell Hall last Thursday courtesy of Arts & Lectures, may not have won anything lately, but she’s definitely on a roll, making her Santa Barbara debut after triumphant appearances in Washington, D.C., and in Seattle, Washington, where she earned glowing reviews. This recital, which featured pianist Milana Chernyavska, was one of the events of the season for serious music fans, and Fischer did not disappoint. In a sparkling yellow gown decorated with a rose pattern, the young musician played without sheet music, sending a not-so-subtle message that, despite the fact that this was a chamber music recital, she was the main attraction and soloist.
Violin recitals require a great deal not only of the performers, who must project their sounds without amplification to the far reaches of whatever hall they happen to be playing, but also of the audience, which must listen with an unusual degree of attentiveness in order to pick up on the nuances that render a performance special. Fortunately for Fischer, this audience, although a bit noisy at times, was all ears. What they heard first was the Sonata for Piano and Violin in B-flat Major, K. 454 of W.A. Mozart. Fischer has wonderful technique, and her staccato, in particular, brought out the admiration of even the most critical and informed listeners. During the Mozart, however, she was still getting warm, and there were moments when the absolute control that is her trademark was less than obvious. Still, the piece gained momentum as it went along, and made an excellent preparation for the fireworks to come.
Franz Schubert’s reputation continues to evolve even today, and, thanks to such pieces as his Rondo Brillant for Violin and Piano in B Minor, op. 70, D. 895, and the type of impassioned, thoughtful performance that Fischer gave, he will go on gaining admirers for many years to come. The dynamics were thrilling, and if the rests sometimes lacked impulsion, that was more than made up for by the sinuous, lyrical way that Fischer unpacked the theme.
After the intermission, Fischer took off in an entirely different direction, moving from the Viennese tradition to the French and from the 18th and early 19th centuries to the late 19th and early 20th. First up was the Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor of Claude Debussy. Debussy’s only violin sonata was also his last composition of any kind, and it remains a monument within the violin repertoire. Fischer approached it with tremendous authority, rendering the work’s complex sequence of effects and moods with memorable accuracy and feeling. Chernyavska also shone on this extraordinary piece, which was for many the highlight of the night.
The evening’s penultimate choice was the Sonata No. 1 in D Minor of Camille Saint-Saëns. Although it is also French, this work could hardly be more different in tone and intention than the sonata that preceded it. Where Debussy cares about exploring colors and timbre, Saint-Saëns is about speed and showmanship. This contrast was a good one for Fischer, who wowed the audience with her command of the final movement, which requires a spiccato technique and involves the illusion of perpetual motion, a kind of string equivalent of the reed player’s technique of circular breathing. For her encore, Fischer chose the gorgeous middle piece from Tchaikovsky’s three Souvenirs d’un lieu cher. Campbell Hall certainly was a dear place during this most satisfying of concerts.