in: Reviews

February 27, 2015

Dutoit and Fischer Return with BSO


Julia Fischer and Charles Dutoit (Winslow Townson photo)

Julia Fischer and Charles Dutoit (Winslow Townson photo)

Julia Fischer, the just-over 31-year-old violinist, wowed the Thursday evening audience at Symphony Hall as the Boston Symphony Orchestra worked strongly alongside her in the Brahms Violin Concerto. To no surprise, though, with Charles Dutoit at the helm, it was the Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks and Debussy Images that rose to heights of orchestral execution. So why did these same concert-goers not leap to their feet for either of the latter as so many did for the Brahms—was it all about Fischer?

The sensibilities of both the Russian and Frenchman allowed their otherwise arguably contrasting works to somehow thrive together—odd fellows of sorts. Opening the program, Concerto in E-flat, “Dumbarton Oaks” had but fifteen players on a near vacant stage. For the following Images , the stage was bursting with more brass and percussion than usual. What a reverse disappearing act to behold a chamber orchestra and a full-sized symphony orchestra in such quick succession.

The leanly drawn Stravinsky and lushly penned Debussy found remarkably heightened presence at Symphony Hall. A mind-gluing eloquence it was. It also was an intensely sensuous raiment before intermission and the Brahms, a coat of a decidedly different color.

Stravinsky’s syncopations and mixed meters felt ever so natural with the small group of BSO musicians who were as technically as musically on. They and Dutoit savored every Baroque or Bach theft that the composer had turned into his own witty modernisms. A perky succinctness was all protein with not a trace of fat or carbs; Dutoit and his chamber players knew that and followed suit. Their refined interplay of timbre gleamed through translucent contrapuntal spinning

In Images, the Dutoit-BSO collaboration summoned a revelatory wholeness through thoughtful pacing. But illumination would come with Les perfumes de la nuit (Perfumes of the night) being attached, with no break at all, to Le matin d’un jour de fête (Morning of a festive day). Hints of a real party led ultimately into a rousing raucousness that would be the climactic epicenter of the five images. Thus, the final image, Rondes de printemps (Spring rounds) would end with a far more limited blast, a typical move of Debussy who is fond of more reflective closes, ones often pleading nostalgia. This lack of a blockbuster finale might explain the BSO audience’s not having risen to their feet for such a phenomenal iteration.

Experienced as he is, especially with this music, Dutoit did take his time extending applause by inviting several members of the orchestra to stand, one-at-a-time, before calling on various sections—and then the entire orchestra—to do likewise. Dutoit even huddled in a brief conversation with the principal violist before taking his leave.

With the Dutoit-BSO collaboration extraordinaire, the fluidity of Debussy’s score reached levels rarely experienced. Crescendos dissolving into hushed restarts of still more builds came in mind-blowing gradations of sensitivity. Where a Boulez might bring transparency, blend would be the word for Dutoit. From throughout the orchestra came formidable streams of colorful imagery, of dream and celebration; there were delicate watercolor-like wisps, bold golden fanfares and everything in between. Shouldn’t Dutoit and the BSO record this?

How well did Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major fare with Stravinsky and Debussy in this uncommon programming? The only answer I could come up with was Julia Fischer and her violin. She is a dynamic even athletic concert artist, bending backwards and forwards even lifting the bow off the strings as if having shot off an arrow.

The Brahms browned like an old ambrotype in contrast to the Monet-like oils of Images. Still, though Fischer enlivened those memorable Brahms themes in their statements, their many ensuing iterations seemed lacking. She brought a good deal of logic to scalar patterns and arpeggios that inhabit those areas between themes, and that brought simple refreshment to this old warhorse of a piece. At times, her violin wonderfully raised its wholesome voice with passionate flair. The dialogues between winds and Fischer in the Adagio were some rare moments when orchestra and soloist really clicked.

Though a fair number left after the Brahms, many, thrilling to her playing, stayed. Her encore, the last movement of Sonata in G Minor by Paul Hindemith, once again wowed. Many-a-face gleamed with smiles. “Amazing!” as uttered by an usher, might very well suggest that Julia Fischer’s virtuosic wizardry, unabashedly on display in the Hindemith, in combination with an honest integrity behind that prowess, was the real crowd-pleaser.

She heads on to Europe and other destinations to satisfy the worldwide demand.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).


  1. Thank you, Mr. Patterson, for your eloquent review. I was lucky enough to attend the Friday afternoon performance. The Stravinsky was a witty, bracing opener, performed with élan. I heartily second the motion for the BSO and M. Dutoit to record the Debussy Images. There were so many gorgeous colors, textures, and rhythms: virtuosity from the players and inspiration from the conductor. Ms. Fischer’s rendition of the Brahms was heartfelt, and her rapport with the orchestra was remarkable. Her encore was the Paganini Caprice 24, with an astonishing pizzicato section like a shower of aquamarines.

    Comment by Alessandra Kingsford — February 28, 2015 at 10:09 am

  2. I also attended the Friday afternoon concert and agree with the comments about the Stravinsky and Debussy. The Stravinsky was particularly engaging, and even though I sat well away from the stage, it had presence and punch, and the balance between the small group of strings and the winds was exemplary. I was less taken by the Brahms. Fischer has a terrific left hand and an agile and rapid bow arm (the pizzicato in the Paganini encore, usually played with bow alternating with the left hand, was indeed extraordinary in its clarity, and I don’t think I’ve heard it before with pizzicato alone). But the Brahms was too fast and glittery for my taste, moving from one section to another with little change in color. The transitions within the fast movements did not afford the audience a chance to breathe, and I didn’t sense an original and probing look at the architecture of this amazing work. Even the too well-worn Joachim cadenza felt rushed. Finally, the orchestra sounded thick, the players looked a bit bored, and it might have helped to have fewer strings.

    And, once again, so many empty seats! Why doesn’t the BSO invite in young people from all the nearby schools on Friday afternoons? I suspect the players would have responded accordingly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the evening performances were a lot better.

    Comment by tom delbanco — February 28, 2015 at 1:52 pm

  3. tom delblanco — The BSO does have programs allowing high school students and college students to get tickets to unsold seats. There’s a one-time fee of $10 for high-schoolers and $25 for collegians. Within the past week or so, the BSO has “shared” articles on Facebook that originally appeared in college newspapers touting the program.

    It’s always disappointing to see empty seats, even sections, as I have during non-Nelsons concerts. (Is that the flip side of the BSO having made such a big thing of Nelsons as a celebrity: people think he’s the only reason to go to the BSO?) I shudder to think how empty the hall will be for “King Roger.”

    But there have been other concerts when it’s been very encouraging to see groups of apparent high-schoolers, as well as numbers of 20-somethings.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 28, 2015 at 4:43 pm

  4. I was at the Friday concert and thought it was very nice overall. I wanted to comment about the empty seat issue….When I was standing at the ticket booth, picking up my tickets, I witnessed a young student being turned away while trying to use her student ticket. The man commented that there were no more student tickets left. The young woman had to leave because she did not have enough cash for a rush ticket. This was not the first time that I have seen young people turned away while trying to use a student ticket; one family was turned away with two children before a recent concert of the Saint-Saens cello concerto. The person at the desk turned them away for being five minutes late to use their family card (they had to wait in a long line) and the comment made to them was that they could not use their card,but they could pay full price. Sadly, the family left very disappointed.
    I felt like I had to say something and I really hope that BSO will try to invite more young people into their concerts and embrace them, rather than turn them away and leave empty seats where future concertgoers could be sitting.

    Comment by Harper Fitz — February 28, 2015 at 8:28 pm

  5. Harper Fitz’s experiences suggest to me that BSO Management need to revise their policies for the student and family card programs. Rather than having a rigid cutoff time for getting tickets and a specific number of seats or specific seat locations for which the cards can be used, they should be able to develop a system that tells them that if they have x seats unsold six hours before a concert, and y unsold seats an hour before the concert, there will be z unsold. Their computer should be programmed to let them give out that number any time up to “curtain.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — March 1, 2015 at 6:01 pm

  6. Fwiw, I passed Fitz’s report onto BSO management and would not be too surprised if they had not already had it called to their attention.

    Comment by David Moran — March 1, 2015 at 6:46 pm

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