By Lawrence Budmen

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was the musical voice of Finland. One of music's most strikingly original creative personalities, Sibelius was strongly drawn to the emotionally heated scores of Tchaikovsky and composers of the 19th century Romantic tradition. The bracing dissonance and austere modernism of his mature scores broke new compositional ground. Only Denmark's Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) possessed a similar strain of musical nationalism. These were singular musical voices. The melodic richness and astringent angularity of Sibelius's muse are in full bloom in his "Violin Concerto in D Minor," Opus 47 (1905). A complex, technically demanding virtuoso vehicle, the concerto requires a soloist with a Paganini-like command of pyrotechnics, burning musical intensity, and artistic integrity. The young German violinist Julia Fischer has those attributes and more. Her powerful performance of this Sibelius masterwork formed the centerpiece of an outstanding concert by the Dresden Philharmonic under Principal Conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos on November 21 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach, presented by the Concert Association of Florida. 

Julia Fischer was the 1st Prize winner of the 1995 International Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition and the 1996 Eurovision Competition for Young Instrumentalists. She is a protégé of the distinguished conductor Kurt Masur (who is Honorary Conductor of the Dresden ensemble). Her technique is simply awesome! Her commanding musicality and tonal coloration are impressively displayed on her 1716 Stradivarius - the Gold Standard. 

The unique musical language of the Sibelius concerto is without parallel in the violin-orchestral literature. Fischer and the Dresden orchestra played the score with an idiomatic affinity and visceral immediacy that were stunning! Fischer's intense attack and dazzling technique were fully equal to the stormy drama of the opening Allegro moderato. Her rhapsodic treatment and expressive phrasing of the richly textured harmonics in the movement's second theme were exciting. In the Adagio molto Fischer unleashed a glowing tone and simmering, passionately explosive intensity that made every musical bar a riveting experience! With the sensitive collaboration of Fruhbeck de Burgos and the Dresden players, Fischer subtly projected the music's iridescent glow! Her taut, strongly projected approach to the Allegro, ma non tanto finale produced a cascade of virtuosic razzle dazzle that was always wedded to a sophisticated conception of the score's grand, arching line. An explosive performance of a 20th century violinistic monument! 

The Dresden Philharmonic is an ensemble with a 135 year history and tradition. This is a world class orchestra. Rich, warm string tone, sweet, elegant winds, and mellow, sonorous brass are the hallmarks of the "Saxony sound." Fruhbeck de Burgos is a conductor with a wide ranging repertoire which he conducts with tremendous flair and enthusiasm. He inspires orchestras to play at their highest and best level. (At this past summer's Tanglewood Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts, he led the student orchestra in inspired performances of major scores by Haydn and Richard Strauss.) His affinity for Sibelius's sound world is total. The surging waves of orchestral sound, radiant pianissimos and brilliant flashes of color were awesome! The conductor infused the concerto with the brooding undercurrent of angular modernity that lies beneath the score's deceptively flashy surface. 

Sibelius's 1900 tone poem "Finlandia" made the composer a national icon. What a glorious performance Fruhbeck de Burgos and the Dresden orchestra achieved! The richly burnished, precise brass chords of the opening were beautifully spacious and measured. The fiery brilliance of the ensemble playing was stunning! The conductor's vigorous direction and attention to minute instrumental details made the familiar score into freshly minted musical gold. In the central section the pure toned, elegantly articulated flute solo by Karin Hofmann was truly beautiful. Fruhbeck de Burgos's deeply reverential treatment of the Finnish national hymn was stirring! Here was Sibelius playing and conducting in the great tradition of Robert Kajanus and Sixten Ehrling! A great performance! 

The Dresden ensemble was on home turf with Beethoven's "Symphony No.7 in A Major," Opus 92. From the first resolute chords and beautifully balanced wind interjections, this was clearly a Beethoven performance in the Central European tradition. With the exception of an overly deliberate tempo in the Scherzo: Presto, this performance flowed with the natural musical current of a great river. A lively, incisive Vivace had a fine sense of ebb and flow. Every instrumental strand had wonderful clarity of detail. Fruhbeck de Burgos brought aristocratic elegance and lyricism to the Allegretto. It was a joy to hear this music played with such heartfelt intensity. The Allegro con brio finale was vivacious and exciting. The final crescendo was stunningly articulated! Patrician conducting and exciting playing - Beethoven in the Dresden tradition!

As encores, Fruhbeck de Burgos turned to music of his native Spain. The haunting Intermezzo from "Goyescas" by Enrique Granados was exquisitely played. Lush, elegantly textured strings, lyrical sweep, and Andalusian ardor marked a stunning performance! The vigor and brio that Fruhbeck de Burgos and the Dresden musicians brought to the Intermezzo from the zarzuela "La Boda de Luis Alonzo" by Serrano was intoxicating. Wonderful vignettes in superbly idiomatic performances.

The Dresden Philharmonic is an ensemble in the great Central European orchestral tradition. The music of Sibelius was infused with new inner life! With a superb conductor and the remarkable talent of Julia Fischer, this was an evening of great music making!

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