Fischer plays Bach

Review of Julia Fischer playing Bach Partitas for Solo Violin at the Wigmore Hall, 14 February 2009

Bach's sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin invite an ­almost sacred ­reverence. They're hailed not merely as the culmination of a now scarcely remembered virtuoso tradition, but as one of the supreme achievements of human creativity. Julia Fischer's ­veneration for them is ­palpable. ­Although still in her mid-20s, she has been playing Bach for nearly two ­decades, in a daily act of private ­worship. She recorded them in 2004 and is now touring with them, selling out the Wigmore Hall over two evenings.

Towering over the second evening's concert of the three partitas was a spellbinding performance of the D minor Chaconne. Fischer's full-blooded sound still allows for breathtaking precision: with her perfect understanding of the even rhythm and mounting tension at the work's core, she held the audience in a vice-like grip.

The gravitational force of the ­Chaconne is a striking feature of any performance, able to pull into its grand design all the music that precedes it. This is fine if the Chaconne is all you have come to hear (the "resistance-is-futile" aspect is central to the movement). But there were other dances here, too. They may be less forceful in the way they take hold of you, but Fischer attacked them nonetheless. She opened with the E major Partita as if disciplining it for indecent behaviour. The lilt and dive of the slower dances were lost in this aggressive approach while, in all three of the partitas, Fischer's attempts to do justice to the ideal of the music ironed out all diffidence and doubt. Though a fault of youth, perhaps, this is a considerable loss, for it put paid to the music's softer edges. It is in bearing witness to the human spirit's frailty and elegance, no less than its strength, that these pieces count among its supreme achievements.

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