You might have thought that the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields (ASMF), violinist Julia Fischer, pianist Yulianna Avdeeva and the première of a new violin concerto would be plenty enough to make this evening's concert attractive. But for me, the most interesting thing was to see Julia Fischer also taking on the conducting duties, which seemed particularly sensible in this situation and made me await the concert with impatience.

Julia Fischer © Felix Broede | Decca
Julia Fischer
© Felix Broede | Decca

The concert started with the première of Andrey Rubtsov's violin concerto. The ASMF, in strings-only format, accompanied Julia Fischer in this work written specially for her – testament to a growing artistic friendship between composer and soloist. The first scherzo-like movement set out the stylistic framework for the whole concerto, which didn't stray far from the realms of the Romantic. Fischer made use of clear, at times almost cutting, high notes; she was able to use refined scales of notes in order to merge deeper into the orchestra. Continually the work played with the elements of the contrasting mutual embrace and mutual repulsion between soloist and orchestra.

In the slow second movement, the orchestra laid out a broad harmonic expanses, which took several unexpected directions. Fischer was greatly expressive with her memorable and sometimes vivid melodies. She did not need to do much in the way of conducting: throughout this work, all the musicians followed her with instinctive understanding. In the third movement Rondo, the strings alternated between fast runs of notes and striking isolated notes. In contrast to many other concerti, the last movement of this concerto has little that's festive about it, other than a faster tempo. Therefore, the solo passages often floated above restless, churning string figures, albeit ones which never strayed from conventional harmonies. So on some occasions, the orchestra carried the soloist, while in the next moment absorbing the solo line within the orchestral sound.

For Tchaikovsky's String Serenade, Fischer sat with the orchestra. You could tell that the musicians were playing one of their showpieces, which had a certain magic. The ASMF played the Serenade faster than any other orchestra does. In doing so, the piece became less broad and heavy, rather, it was lighter, with clearly accented dynamics; in addition, the musicians played with uncanny precision. You might expect that a fundamental decision of such a high tempo would inevitably result in a loss of detail, but not so with the ASMF. Phrasing was never muddled, the balance between the different groups of instruments was a delight. You could see the joy of such explosive energy in Fischer as much as in the orchestra: this was unadulterated music-making joy.

Many orchestras find it difficult to bring out the true dance-like nature of the second movement, for rhythmically, this is no typical waltz. But even here, the orchestra kept to its basically high tempo and imbued their performance with great agility, right up to the last notes, which were played with lightness and wit. In the next movement, the players were sometimes more peaceful; on some occasions, the orchestra was surprisingly subdued, but without losing the emphasis in the placement of the notes. The lines were always defined and in their proper place. But you could tell that, in the last movement as well, the musicians had the desire to play with energy, the violins with a clear, high, layered sound. The sheer pace of the music was sometimes breathtaking, but always under control – never too fast or inaccurate. Precision was kept throughout, and the musicians induldged themselves in rubati. So the Serenade was greeted by the audience with great acclaim before they left for the interval.

Yulianna Avdeeva © Harald Hoffmann
Yulianna Avdeeva
© Harald Hoffmann

The line-up was completed by the arrival of Yulianna Avdeeva for the Double Concerto for Violin, Piano and string orchestra by Mendelssohn. Avdeeva is a highly agile pianist; she likes tempo and has a great deal of agitation in her playing, preferring accented tempi. For the orchestra, the more subordinate role required was by no means straightforward, as we were about to see. The ASMF, this evening, was unwilling to accept that subordinacy and played the whole work in its own way, told its own story and used its authentic nature in high measure and was convincing in its multifarious ways of performing. Julia Fischer excelled in the first movement of the Concerto. She phrased the straight high passages with variety and depth; then, in the second movement, she added into the foreground her perfectly calibrated vibrato. From there, the playing of the two soloists became ever more tightly bound together, and Avdeeva, playing hypnotically, added further variety to the peaceful, slow passages. In sum, I would have wished for more emotion in the interpretation of the two soloists; the proper intensity of feeling was absent. However, these reappeared in the encore: with the Scherzo from the F-A-E Sonata by Brahms, they entranced us and made a real impression, making a fine ending to this unusual evening.


Translated from German by David Karlin.