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Johann Sebastian BACH
The Well-Tempered Clavier
Book 2: Preludes and Fugues, Nos.1-24

Edwin Fischer, Piano
Naxos 8.110653-54 [ADD 125:53]
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Born in Basle, Switzerland in 1886, Edwin Fischer was destined to become one of the most influential pianists of his generation. His own teacher, Martin Krause, was one of the last pupils of Liszt and later the principal teacher of Claudio Arrau. Thus Fischer followed a direct line from the great romantics, a fact which whilst not lost on his own playing, was thoughtfully distilled into his own distinctive interpretative language.

Amongst his achievements were the formation of his own ensemble, the Edwin Fischer Chamber Orchestra, with whom he would often programme symphonic works as well as directing from the keyboard. He frequently worked with the greatest conductors of the day including Furtwaengler, Nikisch and Mengelberg and even formed a trio which was later to include Wolfgang Schneiderhan.

From 1931 onwards Fischer commenced a series of recordings for HMV and became a regular visitor to London where he committed a considerable quantity of music to disc including Bach, Schubert, Handel and Beethoven's Pathetique and Appassionata sonatas. He began recording The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 in February 1935 although it was not until June of the following year that the project was finally completed.

What I find most striking about Fischer's playing is his direct style, which never resorts to fuss or over ornamentation. He allows the music to breath in a beautifully natural way with the voices always clear and the harmony transparent. He does take liberties. As Farhan Malik points out in the booklet note he is not averse to doubling the bass octave where it suits him but I for one find it hard to object to this when the playing allows so much detail through. Neither is the playing always faultless, with a number of minor mishaps along the way. Above all however, these are performances in the truest sense of the word and there is so much to admire in the articulation, dynamics and flow of the playing that minor grumbles are easily forgotten. There are moments when even allowing for the quality of the recording, Fischer's pianissimo legato is to be marvelled at.

A final word about the restoration of the original recordings. The sound is of uneven quality at times although this is to be expected. I did find the ear beginning to tire a little quicker than usual and therefore listening in shorter sessions paid dividends. Overall however the engineers are to be congratulated on their removal of excess background noise to an acceptable standard. It is good to have these valuable recordings available.

Christopher Thomas



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