BBC Legends – Annie Fischer

0 of 5 stars

Carnaval, Op.9
Piano Sonata in D, Op.10/3
Piano Sonata in G, Op.31/1

Annie Fischer (piano)

Recorded in BBC Studios, London – on 19 May 1963 (Schumann) and 11 November 1987

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: October 2006
BBCL 4199-2
Duration: 71 minutes

Since the advent of the LP, in 1950, it could be argued that those artists with a large discography have found greater fame than the ones, such as Annie Fischer (1914-1995), who produced only a small number of discs in the West. Fortunately the advent of decent-quality live-performance releases, such as from BBC Legends, have helped to remedy such neglect. I have listened to all of the BBC Legends issues featuring Fischer, and I would suggest that each one demonstrates what a great interpretative artist she was and that they are essential purchases for all admirers of musicality and creativity.

This disc should however carry a health-warning for those accustomed to soulless modern virtuosos – for whom Liszt’s Transcendental Studies are as difficult as “Chopsticks” – since, from Annie Fischer, there are numerous wrong notes and an occasional lack of absolute rhythmic control. This is especially noticeable in the Beethoven sonatas, which were recorded when the pianist was 73. From 1963 the opening of Schumann’s Carnaval has strength, purpose and rich sonority, with the contrasting sections beautifully realised. ‘Pierrot’ brings a true moderato and relaxed rubato and ‘Arlequin’ is quixotic in phrasing and dynamics. ‘Valse noble’ has dignity combined with a wistful quality and the control of tempo and rhythm in ‘Florestan’ is faultless; and nor will you hear a more flirtatious performance of ‘Coquette’, given here with exquisite detailing and pauses. And so it goes on. As with Richter in Schumann’s Papillons (BBCL 4196-2), every mood change is brilliantly conveyed, culminating in a triumphant performance of the last section in which the marchers really strut their arrogant, cocky stuff and the ‘Più stretto’ is suitably final. Few other pianists match Fischer, although Solomon’s sovereign command (Testament SBT 1084) remains the desert-island choice for this work.

The first movement of Beethoven’s D major Sonata is not Presto, but there is compensating animation and in the central section of the second movement Largo e mesto there is a beautiful softening of the tone and phrasing. The Minuet is heavily accented and firm and the finale has wit and grace. Throughout the first of the three Opus 31 sonatas there are the same qualities; drama and rhythmic quirkiness are perfectly combined in the first movement and the Adagio flows serenely by with some very individual right-hand runs and a constantly changing, but hypnotic, left-hand ostinato. Once again, the finale is certainly not Presto – yet there is a sense of quiet authority and inevitability. (Hearing Fischer’s Beethoven at this stage of her career has convinced me that I need her complete set of the sonatas, on Hungaroton.)

This, then, is a very satisfying disc – an essential purchase for all lovers of great pianism.

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