Academy of St Martin in the Fields
with Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin
and Andrey Rubtsov, oboe
Julia Fischer’s interest on the violin concertos written by Johann Sebastian Bach was precocious and long lasting. She already performed the Concerto no. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041, at the tender age of five and later Bach’s works for violin became an essential part of her performances and discography. Before the present Bach Concertos, released by Decca in 2009, Fischer already recorded another double-disc set on Bach’s Sonatas & Partitas and she seems always delighted to perform works written by the German composer for at least two reasons: «you can hear very clearly that the concertos are influenced by virtuoso players of that time, Vivaldi, perhaps even Tartini. We think of Bach as very serious – the church music and so on – but for that time they are virtuoso concertos for a violinist to have fun. I emphasise that aspect».
Fischer really had fun while she performed the four concertos of this album – apart from the Concerto no. 1 mentioned before, there are the Concerto for two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043; the Concerto no. 2 in E, BWV 1042; and the Concerto for Violin, Oboe and Strings in D minor, BWV 1060. Together with Fischer, the other performers are Alexander Sitkovetsky as second violin in the BWV 1043, oboist Andrey Rubtsov in the BWV 1060 and finally the wonderful Academy of St Martin in the Fields. All of them are accomplished virtuosi that make Bach concertos an extremely enjoyable, brilliant recording, after due consideration.
It must be noticed that the tempi of the four concertos are faster than usual and therefore they may not seem perfectly “orthodox” to a purist. They may appear a little quick, but, in my modest opinion, this would be negative only if it compromised the outcome of the recording or if it spoiled Bach’s music, but this is definitely not the case. The rapidity imposed on the concertos has instead the consequence to make them sparkle. I think that Fischer would not have achieved such a fine outcome with more relaxed, thoughtful tempos.
In the present case, fastness does not mean inaccuracy, but it is the drive of gripping pieces as the Allegro of the Concerto for two Violins, of the sparkling Allegro assai of the Violin Concerto no 1 and of the amusing, delicate and luminous Allegro of the Violin Concerto no. 2. Moreover, the slow movements too take advantage of the pressing speed. The best example is perhaps the Adagio of the Concerto no. 2, a gloomy piece that finds new stimulus in the decided approach of Fischer and of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. For these reasons, I do not think it is the case to condemn their choice of tempos, but it is better to enjoy the result.
I would like to start to talk in detail about Julia Fischer’s performance precisely from the last movement I cited, the Adagio from the Concerto no. 2, as for its different character this is a unique case in the present recording. In this relaxed, relatively quiet movement, Fischer’s strength and inspiration stand out above the soft sound of the orchestra and offers the most immediate sample of her artistry. Her instrument describes here a precious and nostalgic picture thanks to her heartfelt abandonment, to the uninterrupted flow of music that reaches heights of sadness and of intense expressivity that immediately reveals the profundity of her musical instinct. In addition, the warm, sympathetic sound of her instrument is really enchanting.
A similar wonder happens in the Concerto for Violin, oboe and Strings, where Fischer is joined by oboist Andrey Rubtsov, with whom she forms a perfect duo. Their “conversation” in the first Allegro is intuitive and easy, very agreeable to hear as it is suffused with gentle liveliness. The same spirit characterizes the Adagio, though here both instruments are melancholic, and the final Adagio.
A similar understanding can be found in the Concerto for two Violins Fischer plays with Alexander Sitkovetsky. Here the character is completely different and the two violins compete in the expression of energetic feelings, but never ignoring musical refinement.
Fischer is again the only protagonist in the Violin Concerto no. 1. Here her firm temperament and, at the same time, the clever attention to every nuance of music, expressed with a warmth and a communicative ability that are almost the paradox of cold, technical strictness, are the aspects that embellish her performance and give lustre to Bach’s music.
Bach Concertos is one of the finest outcomes of Julia Fischer’s long familiarity with Johann Sebastian Bach – a delight for the ears and an example of supreme virtuosity.