There was a palpable sense of excitement in the Dana Auditorium audience anticipating the return of a festival favorite of three past seasons, violinist Julia Fischer. Her too-seldom-programmed romantic Russian concerto was sandwiched between two war horses of the repertory that received vital performances from the Eastern Music Festival’s principal conductor Gerard Schwarz and the all-faculty Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra.
Deems Taylor's program notes for the premiere of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" (1928) relate that "it engages to tell an emotional narrative; to convey, in terms of sound, the successive emotional reactions experienced by a Yankee tourist (perhaps from Broadway) adrift in the City of Light." At that time, some "serious" composers were experimenting with using elements of jazz. Gershwin, the jazz master, was trying to apply "serious" music elements to jazz. Taylor's original text drew the parallel between strict sonata form and the course of Gershwin's piece, which "announces, develops, combines, and recapitulates definite themes...." It is ironic that one of the most characteristic features of Paris of the 1920s was the distinctive sound of the taxi horns. Gershwin incorporated these horns into the score, and today, the only place where you can hear the taxi horns is during a performance of "An American in Paris." Schwarz led an idiomatic and sparkling performance that brought out all the insouciance of the jazzier sections with precise, abrupt changes in rhythm and edge-of-the-seat playing from every section.
In interviews, Julia Fischer has said how much she loves to play the Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82, by Alexander Glazunov. It abounds in wonderful, long, flowing melodies, and it has a fine cadenza by the composer and enough technical fireworks in the third of its continuous three movements. Unlike some of Glazunov's works, there is no excess saccharine quality in the concerto. The irrepressible Fischer wove a full, sweet, and warm sound from her violin as it sang the melodies. While there was no lack of string pyrotechnics, she seemed effortlessly to toss off pizzicatos, harmonics, and multiple stops. Her string virtuosity was showcased in the first encore, Paganini's Caprice, Op. 1/2, while the depth of her musicianship was displayed in the first movement of Bach's First Sonata in G Minor, S.1001. If audience response had determined it, she would have had done half-dozen encores! Sign her up for next season!
Classical music addicts and critics often grumble when a dusty old warhorse is trotted out. However, when the steed is given its head, the reason for being a repertory staple can become immediately evident. Such was the case when Schwarz metaphorically put the whip (baton) to Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World"). If there were any cobwebs on the piece, they flew off during the slashing attack as the strings leaped away at the end of the introductory adagio. Schwarz's interpretation brought intense, white-hot playing in the fast movements, and there was no sentimental dragging during the slow movement. Karen Birch's eloquent playing of the famous second movement English horn solo was marvelous.