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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Annie Fischer: The Centennial Collection
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.20 in D minor, K466 [32:09]
Piano Concerto no.21 in C major, K467 Elvira Madigan [29:48]
Rondo for piano and orchestra in D major, K382 [9:38]
Fantasia and Fugue in C major, K394 [8:25]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto no.3 in C minor, op.37 [34:59]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptus op.142, D935: no.1 in F minor [9:26]
Piano Sonata no.21 in B flat major, D960 [35:25]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 [31:36]
Annie Fischer (piano)
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Ervin Lukács (Mozart); Heribert Esser (Beethoven)
rec. Hungaroton Studio, 7-11 March 1965 (Mozart K466, K467); 5 April 1965 (Mozart K382, K394), 2-5 June 1966 (Beethoven Op. 37), 28-31 March 1967 (Schubert D.935/1), 28-31 March 1968 (Schubert D.960), 9 January 1953 (Liszt)
HUNGAROTON HCD41011 [3 CDs: 72:10 + 53:03 + 67:18]

This year celebrates the centenary of the birth of the Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer (1914-1995). Warner have already issued, earlier in the year, an 8-CD set in their Icon series of the EMI recordings entitled The Complete London Studio Recordings, which has been favourably reviewed by my colleague John Sheppard. The other recording company Fischer was closely associated with was the Hungarian label Hungaroton. Their tribute takes the form of this 3 CD box entitled The Centennial Collection. Each of the CDs has been issued before separately.
 
Born in Budapest, Fischer studied at the Franz Liszt Academy with Erno Dohnányi. She made her debut at the age of ten playing the second and third movements of the Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 1. In 1933 she won the 1st International Liszt Competition in Budapest, and this triumph was a springboard for her career. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before war broke out and she fled to Sweden with her husband, the influential critic and musicologist Aladar Toth (1898-1968). They returned to Hungary in 1946. Fischer's career was mainly focused on continental Europe; she seldom ventured to the States. She also gave concerts in Japan and Australia.
 
With a repertoire centred on the Viennese classics and Romantic composers such as Chopin, Schumann, Brahms and Liszt, Fischer preferred live to studio recordings, relishing the presence of an audience, which would enhance the spontaneity of her performances. Vera Lampert in 'The Art of Annie Fischer' (2002) makes the pertinent observation that 'when on the stage, she never relied on routine but went with the inspiration born out of the moment'. This accounts for the paucity of her studio recordings and the dissatisfaction she had with some of them. An example of this is the Beethoven sonata cycle she set down. Beginning in 1977, it took fifteen years to complete. She was notoriously self-critical and would not let it be published during her lifetime; it was only released after her death. It is one of the finest cycles I have heard, and it totally puzzles me why Hungaroton have deleted it in its boxed form; it does look as though the CDs can still be purchased individually, but this equates to a costly endeavour.
 
Fischer re-recorded several works for Hungaroton that she had previously set down for EMI, of which there are examples here. The two Mozart Concertos 20 and 21 with Ervin Lukács from 1965 were similarly recorded by EMI under Boult and Sawallisch respectively, in 1958-59. Likewise, the Schubert Sonata and Impromptu from 1968, were recorded for EMI in 1959. Comparing both sets of recordings, I didn't detect any striking interpretive divergence, yet sound quality in the later Hungaroton traversals demonstrates a marked improvement. The later recordings do not sound as coarsely grained. In the works with orchestra there is a richer, warmer string tone, and the woodwinds are captured more sympathetically. For this reason, I would prefer these later documents. There is also a recording of Beethoven 3 with Fricsay on DG, but I've never heard it.
 
The two Mozart Concertos are the highlight of the set for me, with Fischer decidedly in her comfort zone. There is freshness, a natural quality and refinement in her renditions. What really draws me to her playing is its unforced elegance with everything tastefully taken into account. She achieves a beautiful pearl-like tone, with exquisite voicing of chords. Never over-pedalling, there is a transparency in the line and she accomplishes an opulent spectrum of tonal colour. I was particularly taken by the introspection and profundity of the slow movement of K466. Ervin Lukács engages sympathetically with the soloist, matching her phrasing with sensitivity and musicality. The same qualities can also be found in the Beethoven Concerto - a well-groomed performance. Here the conductor is Heribert Esser who proves an able partner, judging the ebb and flow of the orchestral score with intelligence and an eye for the work's architectural structure.
 
The Schubert D960 is a transcendental reading of epic proportions, sonically more agreeable than the 1959 EMI recording. It is an amalgam of drama, lyricism and poetic sensibilities. In the second movement, the pain and pathos is tangible. This is assuaged in the extrovert and energetic scherzo which follows. The Liszt Sonata was recorded in 1953 and the recording now shows its age, with a boxy acoustic and some distortion in the louder passages. Nevertheless it is a performance of stature, with Fischer having the technique and vision to integrate this mighty edifice. In the same way, all the shorter works display artistry of distinction.
 
Sound quality throughout - with the exception of the Liszt - is second-to-none. Documentation by Attila Retkes, in English and Hungarian, presents an affectionate portrait of an artist who reigned supreme, not only in her native Hungary, but throughout the concert world. Like many, I was amazed that Annie Fischer was not included in the Philips Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century series; this was a glaring omission. Whilst Hungaroton are to be commended for this worthy tribute, I feel that this issue highlights a missed opportunity. The centenary could have been an occasion for the release of their complete Fischer discography, including the acclaimed Beethoven cycle, at an affordable price. Maybe they'll think again.
 
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index    
Beethoven piano concerto 3 Liszt sonata  
Mozart piano concerto 20 Mozart piano concerto 21 Schubert piano sonata 21