Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Julia Fischer and Bach

For almost all my life (or at least for the past 65 years) I have known the violin concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach. First, from learning them and playing them on my violin, and then from a plethora of recordings, starting with the E major concerto on two 10 inch 78 rpm shellac discs. The concertos have not fared well with recordings. Pre- 1950, they were often given the full romantic treatment, with a ponderous symphony orchestra accompanying. Then, post the 1970s, they were too often given the full hocus-pocus “authentic” treatment, with the worst I have encountered being the much-admired Alina Ibragimova grotesquely accompanied by some pseudo baroque band with a monstrous plucking theorbo (or jeroboam) breaking up the sombre bass line in the slow movements of of the E major and A minor concertos (Jonathan Cohen and his 18th century Arcangelo bandits).

I chanced upon a CD of Julia Fischer playing the violin concertos (with Alexander Sitkovetsky in the double concerto). This is how I like Bach played. No conductor – the Academy of St Martin in the Fields does not need an interventionist conductor for this kind of music. Ms Fischer plays the music straight, and from the heart. No romantic posturings; no pseudo- 18th century embellishments. The band provides the tuttis with not an arch-lute in sight (nor a harpsichord, deo gratias).

The concerto in C minor for violin and oboe fares a little better than usual, but it will not come into its own until a courageous balance engineer puts the oboe at the back of the band (under protest, and threat of legal action) and the violin at the front. The piercing sound of the oboe is simply too dominant when pitted against the softer sound of the violin on equal footing. The first recording I had of this concerto was a French seven inch LP (or maybe EP) with Karl Ristenpart and his Saarlanders; probably fetch $20,000 on EBay now, though it is long since gone from my shelves.

Julia Fischer has always been a superb violinist, though her star seems to have faded of late. These Bach concerto recordings date from 2008. I did notice she was recently playing Beethoven sonatas in Germany with Igor Levit. That would be something to hear. In the meantime, I really like Ms Fischer's Bach concertos and will lift them off my shelves regularly. More and more, for Bach I gravitate towards Edwin Fischer and Karl Richter, with Alina Ibragimova (as long as she plays solo).

No comments: