tue 21/11/2017

Fischer, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dutoit, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Fischer, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dutoit, Royal Festival Hall

Fischer, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dutoit, Royal Festival Hall

Fischer seems slightly under par, but Dutoit’s finery is undiminished

Julia Fischer with violin, proving she can smile after all Image: Kasskara

If Dr Frankenstein wanted to manufacture the perfect violinist, he’d require a long list of ingredients. Perfect, unfussy technique, of course; but also seriousness of purpose, a sense of humour, a clear head, a passionate heart, a generous tone, plus access to a Stradivarius. On the other hand, the good doctor could simply go out and find Julia Fischer, the 28-year-old German violinist who ticks almost all of the above boxes, except perhaps “sense of humour”. There’s not a flashy or egotistical bone in her body, nor an itchy one: even six years ago she’d vaulted way past the promising stage and was playing Bach solo partitas with the kind of wisdom that’s usually the preserve of the ancients.

Even a stone would have been moved by Fischer’s simple, unforced phrasing at the beginning of the larghetto

And here she was last night tackling one of the repertoire’s peaks, the Beethoven Violin Concerto, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and their Principal Conductor Charles Dutoit. To be truthful, it wasn’t the most exultant interpretation she’s given; overall, I’d heard more consistent personality and fire when she played it at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman five years ago. Here, she went up and down. Even a stone would have been moved by Fischer’s simple, unforced phrasing at the beginning of the larghetto; and you could warm your hands with the gusto she generated in her cadenzas, a quality evident, too, in her winning encore, Paganini’s Caprice No 13.

She also achieved a little wit in Beethoven’s jovial finale, though never puckish mischief: as a serious German, it isn’t in her make-up. But there were times when Fischer seemed to be playing with less than her usual inward feeling, content to be calmly beautiful, neatly turned, polished but opaque. It was the kind of performance a soloist sometimes gives if their hectic schedule doesn’t allow for batteries to be fully recharged. Too many planes, too many hotels: that’s what I thought I heard.

The RPO’s maestro disported himself on the podium like an Elizabethan courtier engaged in florid swordplay

No amount of travelling seems to affect Charles Dutoit. The best-dressed conductor in the galaxy, the RPO’s maestro disported himself on the podium like an Elizabethan courtier engaged in florid swordplay: a lunge here, a swirl there, with fancy dance steps in-between. It was ever thus. Though the Royal Philharmonic played well enough, the Beethoven wasn’t the music to bring out the man’s colourful finesse. For that, Dutoit had the busy and luscious kaleidoscope of Ein Heldenleben, Richard Strauss’s self-regarding monument of a tone poem. The programme note quoted Sir Thomas Beecham’s reminiscence of an epic train trip spent with a friend identifying the score’s inessential notes, and finding 15,000. But the way the RPO played it with Dutoit, we didn’t want to lose any of them. 

The brass began in the opening bar with an uncomfortably beery blast, though that was the only infelicity in a performance of much excitement and splendour. In the first section, Strauss’s self-portrait rollicked along with tremendous passion; and if leader Duncan Riddell’s violin solos lacked the more ravishing tenderness, his exquisite control of pitch and tone still made listening a pleasure. As for the central battle, depicting the heroic artist conquering his enemies (critics like me, with a notepad and pen), brass and percussion led the hostilities with joyfully brazen decibels.  

When Strauss’s monster began to wind down in the reflective tapestry of the final section, some limitations to Dutoit’s manicured artistry began to crystallise. Even a monster like Ein Heldenleben has a soul, but this performance, so careful about externals, so clean in its textures, finally just missed locating it. Still, we’d had a fair time, Fischer included, and you can’t have everything you want in life. 

It was the kind of performance a soloist sometimes gives if their hectic schedule doesn’t allow for batteries to be fully recharged

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Comments

I think I pretty much agree. Fischer seemed more severe than usual here; not as wise and concentrated as that BBC SO Barbican one 5 years ago. Maybe it was just an off night. We've only had her twice in London, this year, though, so it's a shame not to hear her best. The best I've ever heard her was at the Proms 2 years ago when she did the Shostakovich 1st: truely great.

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