Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight)
32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor, WoO80
Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39
Andante & Variations in F minor, Hob.XV11:6
Dances of Marosszék
Sonata in C minor, K457
Annie Fischer (piano)
Recorded in BBC Studios, London on 2 November 1958 (Beethoven Moonlight, Chopin, Haydn); 19 May 1963 (Beethoven Variations, Kodály); 24 February 1971 (Mozart)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: February 2005
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 74 minutes
Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer (1914-1995) hated the recording studio. Although she made a few LPs for DG, English Columbia and Hungaroton (including the complete Beethoven sonatas), she is one of those artists who have benefited from the growth in good-quality, live-performance CDs.
As this disc demonstrates, her music-making was as far removed from the pyrotechnical posturing of so many of today’s young pianists as it is possible to get, and these performances convey a sense of urbane discourse, and – to use an old-fashioned word – spirituality.
In Haydn’s Variations, Fischer doesn’t use the crisp attack that we are now accustomed to; rather the two themes have an aura of mystery and calm and each variation is presented using a wide tonal and dynamic range. Every phrase is moulded in an unaffected manner and there is an underlying sense of a powerful intellect.
All of these qualities are evident in the two Beethoven pieces, although the Allegretto of Op.27/2 would have benefited from more rhythmic emphasis, and while the last movement is propulsive, here, as is often the case, Fischer is less than note-perfect. As with Cortot and Schnabel you have to put up with some slips, which are of no great concern. The third piece from the classical era, Mozart’s C minor Sonata, will leave those into authentic performance shaking their heads. Fischer makes liberal, but never excessive use of the sustaining pedal, as well as rubato and pianissimo senza-legato phrasing – all of which are combined with an atmosphere of questioning and uncertainty to produce a great performance.
When we move to the more Romantic world of Chopin’s C sharp minor Scherzo, Fischer’s approach is relaxed and supple, the quaver runs in the two ‘meno mosso’ sections are very Impressionistic and Fischer has noted that whenever ‘Tempo 1’ returns the score is not full of ffs.
The performance of her compatriot Kodály’s Dances of Marosszék is the best I have heard. From the dark opening chords onwards there is an instinctive grasp of rhythm and colouring and a sense of menacing power that makes the work very unsettling; again this is a great performance.
The sound is not brilliant; there is some pitch instability, limited dynamic range and a lack of definition in all bar the (stereo) Mozart. Fortunately none of these failings are serious enough to detract from the playing, which has sovereign command, great individuality and, as I said, that rare but indefinable quality of true spirituality.