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The Edwin Fischer Trio
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Trio in D Op. 70 No. 1 Ghost
Piano Trio in B flat Op. 97 Archduke
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Trio in C K548
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Trio in D Op. 63
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Trio No. 2 in E flat – rehearsal extract
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin), Enrico Mainardi (cello) and Edwin Fischer (piano)
Recorded live 1952-54
MUSIC AND ARTS CD 840 [2 CDs: 68.51 and 76.10]

Edwin Fischer first formed his trio in 1935. Enrico Mainardi was the cellist and was to remain thus for the remainder of the trio’s existence but the original violinist was Georg Kulenkampff. The three original members proved congenial. Fischer and Mainardi were duo partners and Mainardi and Kulenkampff often played Brahms’ Double Concerto together (they recorded it as well in a fine reading). The name of Adolf Busch has sometimes been used as a stick with which to beat Kulenkampff in respect of selfless altruism and moral scruple during the Nazi’s rise to power – but what is true in this context, concerning Mainardi, is that his career in Germany in the thirties flourished in direct proportion to the enforced emigration of leading cellists. The trio carried on after the war, by which time Kulenkampff and Fischer were living in Switzerland and on the violinist’s sudden death in 1948, Wolfgang Schneiderhan took over. The original trio made no discs and as far as is known no live recordings have survived either. The new trio however was taped on a number of occasions in concerts both by Bavarian Radio and, as here, at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Paul Badura-Skoda made these private recordings.

My admiration for all three musicians is strong but my reservations about some of the performances are equally so. That said, the survival of these discs is a matter of great significance and this is, perhaps inevitably, more to do with Fischer’s own participation and pivotal role than the string players, fine though they are. The repertoire is standard – the Bavarian broadcasts, also published by Music and Arts were of Brahms trios – and cover two Beethoven trios, a Mozart and Schumann with the addition of a lengthy rehearsal sequence of the E flat Schubert, made in a piano showroom in Lucerne. The masterpiece is the Archduke and it receives a heavily personalised and rhythmically idiosyncratic performance. Certainly the Allegro moderato properly adopts that modificatory indication but it is elastic in the extreme at times and the slow prayerful attitude adopted tonally by the string players will not be universally welcomed. In addition these chorale-like intimacies are accompanied by an extreme non-tensile approach to unison passagework. The hobbling phrasing Fischer engages in when it comes to the Scherzo seem to me fatally to undermine the character of the movement. The Andante is underplayed; Fischer doesn’t derive great weight of tonal resource here. While no-one is asking for glutinous indulgence – or swift metricality from the high-powered, chromium plated trios one could cite – the lightness and attractive delicacy the three extract, whilst undeniable, is not quite accompanied by requisite masculinity or spine. There is string shading in abundance, gracefulness and also a degree of intensity but Fischer doesn’t really float his sound enough and once or twice sounds hesitant and unsure. Mainardi can phrase with plangent sensitivity and Schneiderhan, later on, colours his tone more emotively but the decreasing tempo they adopt sounds arch and forced. The finale is heavily italicised, again hobbled. Fischer – not in good health at the time – sounds technically slightly flustered, and whilst there’s a certain dry wit, the ending is disappointingly lame.

These strictures apply more or less to the rest of the repertoire. The Ghost Trio replicates the elasticity of tempo adopted at significant expressive moments in the Archduke. That said I admired the controlling eloquence of Fischer in the slow movement and Mainardi’s increasingly rapt playing even if the Presto finale finds all three rather under the tempo. In the Mozart things are rather better. There is fleetness in the Allegro opening and Schneiderhan has numerous opportunities to fleck his line with his accustomed excellence in this repertoire. The Andante cantabile is the best interpreted of the three movements with a real degree of intensity from the trio. They bind together the sometimes diffuse rhetoric of the opening of the Schumann Trio in D and Schneiderhan’s long-breathed lyricism in the slow movement is attractive, the finale forceful with a good directional pull. Finally there is the rehearsal sequence of the Schubert recorded in a Lucerne piano showroom, a valuable insight into the working methods of the three men who play straight through stopping only occasionally.

Whilst interpretatively I found some of the playing disappointing the value of this set is undoubtedly high, capturing Fischer and his trio towards the end of its active life – he gave up concert performance in 1955. The recordings were made on home equipment by Badura-Skoda, who was then an assistant to Fischer, and apart from distance and resonance and the invariable failings of on-site non-professional equipment they are very listenable. They have been transferred by Lowell Cross. They first appeared on LP back in 1976 and 1977. There are printed tributes to Fischer by Roger Smithson in English and by Badura-Skoda in German.

Jonathan Woolf



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