REVIEW: Asher Fisch Conducts & Plays Mozart (WASO) – by Willian Yeoman

Reviewed by William Yeoman
on the 21st March 2014 (concert 7th March)
for Limelight Magazine
An auspicious start to WASO’s 2014 season and Fisch’s tenure as Principal Conductor.

In an auspicious start to WASO’s 2014 season and his tenure as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor, Israeli-born Asher Fisch presided over an intimate, chamber-like account of Mozart’s D minor piano concerto from the keyboard before switching to expansive mode for orchestral works by Richard Strauss and Wagner.

First, however, came a fleet, detailed performance of Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, its compact sound-world making even more of an impression for the orchestra’s having tuned up unheard and unseen beforehand – they simply plonked themselves down and played. Also of interest both here and throughout the evening was Fisch’s layout of the orchestra – for example, the woodwinds were placed off to the right – which added a different spatial dimension to the orchestral conversations which ensued.

Conversation was at the core of the D minor concerto, with Fisch engaging with soloists and sections as equals while – and not least through some stylish yet imaginative phrasing, weighting of inner voices and pedalling, most apparent in the cadenzas – lending the piano part a true orchestral dimension. This was collaborative musicianship of the highest order.

Death and Transfiguration is one of those descriptive works, for which Strauss is so well known, which despite the music’s sophistication can sound naïve if taken too literally. Fisch of course knows better, sublimating the portrayal of a dying man’s last moments such that the program is merely an imaginative starting point for a richer, more universal abstraction. Here, the WASO strings, not always the most disciplined, were – and here guest concertmaster Paul Wright must take some of the credit – especially impressive.

It was however the brass which was the star of the show in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger suite, the impeccably tuned chords especially ringing out with a confidence and unanimity which was only just matched by the strings and woodwinds. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful beginning, and further proof that Fisch, incidentally a protégé of Daniel Barenboim, who incidentally has always enjoyed conducting Mozart from the keyboard himself, is making good his intentions to give WASO a more identifiable, distinctive identity. Bring on Fisch and WASO’s Beethoven Festival in August!