Annie Fischer

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 19, 15 'Pastoral', 30, 32

(CD - IMP BBC Radio Classics #1565691722)

Review by

This is a fascinating reissue of work by a pianist who was never well known to the public; she disliked making recordings and indeed made very few of them. Annie Fischer, born in 1914 in Hungary and active in the concert hall until a few years before her death in 1995, was much admired by her fellow musicians. One admirer was classmate and future Chicago Symphony conductor Georg Solti, who said that Fischer "never really practiced...but she had marvelous fingers, a natural technical ability. She was one of the most musical people I ever met in my whole career." Both halves of that comment give the listener an idea of what to expect from these recordings, whose origins will remain cloudy to the reader of the booklet -- different dates are given in the notes and in the tracklist, and it is not clear whether these were live broadcast performances or studio recordings. (On a reissue disc, sloppiness like that rises from annoyance to significant flaw.) Fischer has a striking insight into the small details of Beethoven's music, and again and again she crafts complex readings of individual phrases that come together brilliantly and make perfect sense as the music unfolds. The recording of the "Pastoral" sonatas, the Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, heard here is one of the most remarkable on recordings, with Beethoven's calm, bucolic effects woven together with his evolving structural genius in a way that very few pianists have accomplished. There are plenty of arresting moments as well in the two late Beethoven sonatas on the disc; hear the way Fischer gradually starts pushing the tempo of the Arietta theme of the second and final movement of the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, and propels the listener toward the awe-inspiring fireworks to come. The only problem is that when the fireworks arrive, Fischer isn't quite equipped to handle them technically -- maybe because she was hanging out with Georg Solti in the caf├ęs instead of practicing. The Lisztian configurations of simultaneous melodies, trills, and scales at the climaxes of the finales of both Op. 111 and the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, do not have the clear articulation of the individual lines that make these difficult but mystically exultant works really come alive. Still, these performances are strongly recommended to anyone who approaches Beethoven's sonatas with a structural mindset (anyone who likes Artur Schnabel's versions will find performances here that are quite different but have the same kinds of virtues) and to any pianist working to craft distinctive interpretations of Beethoven. The remastering of the original BBC sound has been well and unobtrusively done.

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