San Francisco Chronicle

Violinist makes welcome return

- By Joshua Kosman

It has been a solid decade since the superb German violinist Julia Fischer last plied her trade in Davies Symphony Hall. That’s a long time for San Francisco Symphony audiences to go without her distinctiv­e brand of steely brilliance.

But there she was again on Friday, Feb. 23, joining the orchestra and Music Director EsaPekka Salonen for a sleek, aerodynami­c account of Brahms’ Violin Concerto that conjured up memories of her finest artistry. It was a welcome return. Fischer was a regular visitor here during the 2000s, when she had a strong collaborat­ive partnershi­p with Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas. In fact, Thomas was originally scheduled to conduct the current program as well.

But when he withdrew because of health concerns, Salonen stepped in to take over conducting duties for the weekend’s concerts, which also included Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella.”

To an outside observer, it seems as though the commonalit­ies between Fischer and Salonen would run even deeper. They share a similar interpreti­ve approach, predicated on gleaming technical precision and a certain expressive coolness.

How that plays out in person is anyone’s guess, but the onstage results were impeccable and often exhilarati­ng. In the concerto’s first movement especially, Fischer’s playing combined flawless intonation with a spirit of exuberance that created a marvelous balance.

Because it’s now such a standard part of the orchestral repertoire, it can be easy to lose sight of the strangenes­s baked into this concerto — the way it blends the stately reserve that is Brahms’ default mode with an open-heartednes­s that peeks through the musical texture at unexpected moments.

Fischer and Salonen together gave that duality a compelling shape, particular­ly in the two outer movements. Fischer brought piercing eloquence to the passagewor­k of the opener, while Salonen assembled the

work’s large musical paragraphs into a coherent dramatic progressio­n.

The boisterous finale came off in a wonderful stream of acrobatics. Fischer’s technical prowess allowed her to give the music its full measure of freewheeli­ng energy without sacrificin­g anything in the way of exactitude — not even in the final pages of the piece, when Brahms suddenly ups the tempo significan­tly.

I found Fischer’s treatment of the central slow movement rather severe — there’s more tenderness in this music than she was ready to give it — but Associate Principal Oboist James Button compensate­d with a glowing account of the extended solo that opens the movement.

Fischer turned on the charm when she returned to the stage for an encore, telling the audience that she was about to play one of Paganini’s Caprices for Solo Violin but hadn’t quite decided which one yet.

“Play ’em all!” shouted a wiseacre in the terrace seats. (There are 24 pieces in the set.) In the event, Fischer settled on No. 17 in E-Flat, and delivered it with quicksilve­r allure.

“Pulcinella,” Stravinsky’s ballet on themes by the 18th-century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, made a notably less suave presence during the concert’s first half. There were pleasures scattered throughout, including a few gloriously full-voiced contributi­ons from mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and exquisite duets by Principal Flutist Yubeen Kim and Principal Oboist Eugene Izotov, who are quickly staking a claim as the Symphony’s dynamic duo.

Much of the performanc­e, though, sounded blurred and occasional­ly uncertain, as though it were still a rehearsal or two away from full readiness.

 ?? Lizzy Montana Myers/ Special to the Chronicle ?? Julia Fischer performs with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, Feb. 23.
Lizzy Montana Myers/ Special to the Chronicle Julia Fischer performs with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, Feb. 23.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States