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Annie Fischer – The Complete London Studio Recordings
Full contents at end of review
WARNER CLASSICS ICON 2564 634123 [8 CDs: c. 540:00]

This box stands as a consolidation of a number of previous reissues of the recordings of Annie Fischer (1914-1995), made for EMI in London and Vienna between 1955 (the Bartók Concerto) and 1966.
 
Collectors may well have come across the single-disc Mozart concerto recordings that EMI released a number of years ago in which the Boult-conducted recordings were on 67000, the Sawallisch on 67002 and the Kurtz on 67001. These sanely judged, poetically refined and characteristically elegant recordings are all sympathetically accompanied. For the record it seems as if the Boult brace has been newly re-mastered, but that’s not the case with the Sawallisch and Kurtz. Cadenza obsessives, and there are some, believe it or not - the kind of people who buy a cat for its teeth - will take pleasure in noting that she plays the Beethoven in K466, Busoni in K467,and those by Hummel in the first movements of K482 and K491. Of the six concertos, it’s the C minor and B flat conducted by Kurtz that seem to have fared least well in reissue terms, but they lack for nothing as performances.
 
The next two discs are devoted to the seven Beethoven sonatas she recorded under the supervision of producer Walter Jellinek – with the sole exception of Op.111 where Walter Legge supplanted Jellinek. There has been much talk about the extent of the splicing in her recording of the complete 32 sonatas, recorded many years later for Hungaroton between 1977 and 1992 in her native Hungary and released posthumously. There is certainly evidence from the session-spread in London that this most fastidious and precise of artists laboured long and hard to complete these recordings. Even Op.31 No.3, which others might execute in a morning’s session, seems to have stretched over several days. She returned to the Moonlight three months after first recording it, presumably for patching sessions or retakes. Op.111 took the better part of three days. No one though could begrudge her, certainly not her recording team or EMI when the results were so profound. The Waldstein is amongst the best of these inscriptions though there is a rich-toned unselfconscious purposefulness about the finale of Op.109 which is taken faster than more romanticist approaches and combines the structural acuity of the more ascetic-sounding Wührer with the gravity of the most refined of tonalists.
 
She was later to return to Schubert’s last sonata, D960, for Hungaroton but her EMI recording was made in London in 1960. Both this and the two Impromptus that she recorded later in the year – the A flat and the F minor - attest to her refined strength, her acute ear for balance, colour and texture; nothing is exaggerated. Curzon, perhaps, goes deeper but Fischer explores the music with unfailing beauty of tone and depth of feeling. The sixth disc, containing the Schubert pieces, also boasts a characterful and virtuosic - in the best sense - performance of Schumann’s Fantasie in C, which prefaces Carnaval. Add to these a powerfully dramatic Kreisleriana and an immaculately played, affecting Kinderszenen, though it is less cumulatively moving than Carl Friedberg’s account. Schumann was one of her most persuasive reportorial strengths, in which architecture, narrative and tone fuse very well together. The Concerto performance reinforces her virtues albeit Klemperer’s more rugged orchestral responses are somewhat at odds with her conception. This seems to have been another problematic venture, begun on 22 May 1960 but returned to over the following two days, and again over the course of four days in May and August a full two years later. The collaboration between the two in the Liszt E flat Concerto works better, though it too was somewhat protracted. Given her place of birth it’s surprising that she recorded so little Bartók. In 1955 she and Igor Markevitch and the LSO recorded his Concerto No.3, a recording of power and energy that makes the neglect of Bartók’s music in her discography all the more regrettable.
 
There are helpful notes from Leslie Gerber in the booklet. As previously noted some of these recordings are heard in recent transfers – the Boult Mozart concertos, four of the Beethoven sonatas, Schubert’s D960 and Schumann’s Fantasie. This altogether represents an excellent, core salute to Annie Fischer and her musical legacy.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
Previous review (Recording of the Month): John Sheppard

Masterwork Index      
Beethoven: Piano sonata 8 Sonata 14 Sonatas 18, 21 & 24 Sonatas 30 & 32
Mozart: Piano concerto 20 Concerto 21 Concertos 22 & 23 Concertos 24 & 27
Schubert sonata D960 Schumann piano concerto


Full Contents

CD 1 [57:37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K466 [31:30]; Piano Concerto No. 23 in A K488 [26:00]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
recorded at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in February and April 1959

CD 2 [64:31]
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C K467 [30:05]; Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat K482 [34:14]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
recorded at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in February and March 1958

CD 3 [60:19]
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K492 [30:58]; Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat K595 [29:13]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Efrem Kurtz
recorded at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in May and June 1966

CD 4 [64:50]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas – No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 “Pathétique” [18:47]; No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 “Moonlight” [15:53]; No. 18 in E flat Op. 31 No. 3 [22:11]; No. 24 in F sharp minor Op. 78 [7:38]
recorded at No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London in October and November 1958, February 1959 and June 1961

CD 5 [67:17]
No. 21 in C Op. 53 “Waldstein” [23:21]; No. 30 in E Op. 109 [18:26]; No. 32 in C minor Op. 111 [25:10]
recorded at No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London in June 1957, November 1958 and June 1961

CD 6 [74:45]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu in A flat D935 No. 2 [7:23]
Impromptu in F minor D935 No. 4 [5:51]
Piano Sonata in B flat D960 [33:18]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasy in C Op. 17 [29:00]
recorded at No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London in October 1958 and November 1959

CD 7 [74:39]
Carnaval Op. 9 [25:21]
Kinderszenen Op. 15 [18:22]
Kreisleriana Op. 16 [30:25]
recorded at No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London in June 1957 and Vienna in December 1964

CD 8 [75:24]
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 [32:16]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat [18:40]
Schumann and Liszt - Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
recorded in No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in May 1969 and May and August 1962
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945) Piano Concerto No. 3 [24:11]
London Symphony Orchestra/Igor Markevitch
recorded in No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in November 1955