tue 16/07/2019

Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Fischer, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Fischer, Royal Festival Hall

Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Fischer, Royal Festival Hall

Precision, charm and wit from the COE - and two Fischers for the price of one

But first, The Italian Girl in Algiers. Rossini’s typically tantalising overture showed us precisely what makes this orchestra and this conductor so special. The whole nine minutes popped open like a compendium of delicious pointings, exquisitely songful, wittily articulate. The woodwind choir were a joy, playing with their whole bodies, not just their fingers, leaning with relish into Rossini’s unlikely alliances – like little and large, the piccolo and first bassoon, or Romain Ortega’s delicious first oboe chatting up Romain Guyot’s sultry first clarinet. When in Algiers do as the Italians do – but bring along your “Jingling Johnny” for a hint of local colour. The COE sported an especially ornate one.

Julia Fischer slightly disconcerted me with the opening page of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto offering it gently and quite shyly as if she hadn’t yet noticed the molto appassionata marking. But the fire quickly kindled and the range of expression between fragile and robust thoroughly exploited all possibilities. The grace of it was especially telling with that ethereal transition into the second subject finding pure tone through the almost total eradication of vibrato. Fischer is very creative with vibrato though I sometimes wish she would show us more of herself beyond a no-nonsense, business-as-usual, demeanour. True it’s the playing that walks the walk and talks the talk but its exquisite fastidiousness could be tempered with what one might describe as an inner joy. Or even, heaven forbid, warmth. Her encore – the second movement of Ysaye’s Second Sonata with its Bachian obsession of the Dies Irae – was scary.

The sun did come out again with Rossini’s audacious Variazione a piu istrumenti obbligati whose solo turns were quite literally done as “stand up”, a running gag perpetrated in Fischer’s feigned surprise as to who might pop up next. Thereafter it was young Schubert who popped up with the promise of perpetual Spring in his Fifth Symphony – one of those “life is good” pieces which doesn’t feel composed but rather perennially sung. So naturally was this performance shaped and shaded that the harmonic gorgeousness evolving from the gracious interweaving of strings and winds seemed like a divine accident. It was and it wasn’t.

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