Ferenc Fricsay, the Hungarian conductor has a simple, direct and adumbrating conducting style. His strength of conviction has a subtle yet dominant presence as he insisted on and obtained great precision, combining this with considerable emotional gravitas. Yehudi Menuhin declared that Fricsay: ‘was one of the world’s greatest conductors, certainly no conductor had greater talent.’
Hungarian virtuoso Annie Fischer (1914-1995) studied at the Franz Liszt Academy with Ernst von Dohnanyi. A player of honesty and integrity, Fischer possessed a strong yet supple technique, allowing her to display a firm grasp of harmonic progression and fuse her magnanimous spiritual vivacity with heartening warmth. These are all essential qualities for Beethoven’s third piano concerto. As Niel Immelman writes: “The balance she maintained between form and content, while keeping an apparently effortless freedom of expression, was reminiscent of Wilhelm Fürtwängler; her command of Beethoven's thought process was comparable to Artur Schnabel's.”
Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto emerges out of the titanic and tragic C minor triad. Fischer’s rising scale sweeps onto the stage with aplomb, intensely echoing Fricsay’s orchestral introduction. The orchestra then tempestuously whisks through other keys before returning to the roaring melancholia of C Minor. Fischer then coaxes the piano to sing with mellifluous lyricism before adding a percussive clap of thunder. Towards the end of the first movement Fischer uses her strength and dexterity to play the three simultaneous, fragile effortless trills - all the while picking out Beethoven’s motif. In the otherworldly second movement Fischer embodies Orpheus in her silky grace. In the third she mocks and teases, making us question the extent of tragedy and comedy.
Though she famously disliked making recordings, her greatest legacy is a set of the Beethoven piano sonatas. An excessively critical perfectionist, despite having worked on her performances for fifteen years, she did not allow the set to be released in her lifetime. However her interpretation and delivery of each sonata is an astonishing masterpiece in itself.
Encouraging musicians to listen to each other and play as though in a chamber group; Fricsay facilitates an internal balance between orchestra and trio in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. With swells of chivalric pomp undercut by accompanying triplets, the first movement - one of bombastic bursts, vigour and the ebullient efflorescence of youth - begins. The second movement opens with a warm and soothing orchestral serenade which gives way to a sonorous, soprano-voiced cello solo. Pierre Fournier plays this with acute attentiveness to Beethoven’s finely crafted textures. In the Rondo alla Polacca Polish folkloric sounds are punctuated with Fricsay’s crisp clarity. This zesty movement is rhythmically exciting and not at all clumsy or monotonous. The trio and the orchestra intertwine but never convolute or obscure.
I cannot praise Annie Fischer’s recording of Beethoven’s third piano concerto enough and urge you to explore this fine pianist’s work further. The refreshed sound of this recording is fully gratifying. Andrew Rose’s re-mastering does not crassly wrench Fischer’s recording out of its time and context; rather, it serves to aggrandise the majesty of the orchestra and crystallise Fischer’s fine musicianship in these performances. Authenticity is retained and clarity gained.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano concerto 3
~~ Triple concerto