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

Annie Fischer was born in Budapest in 1914 and died there in 1995. She made a relatively small number of commercial recordings. The best known are probably the Mozart concertos that make up three of the discs in this wonderful box. All are played with immense character, poise, wit and, above all, beauty and variety of tone. Despite being accompanied by a larger orchestra than is common today there is no sense of the heaviness or coarseness that sometimes occurred at that time, still less of the blandness that still affects too many performances of these works. Fortunately the three conductors involved ensure a genuine partnership between soloist and orchestra with the result that these remain amongst the very best performances of these works on disc. The box would be worth having for them alone.

If the remainder does not always reach these exalted heights it is never less than worth hearing. The best are probably the solo Schumann works. The title of the box does not do full justice to what is included as the Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana were both recorded in Vienna in 1964 and were therefore not part of her London recordings. They and the Carnaval recorded in 1957 are wonderfully communicative performances, with every phrase adding to a continuous musical story. Fischer’s ability to vary tone colour, weight of tone and internal balance, especially in repeated sections, ensures that the listener’s attention is never allowed to wander. The performance of the Piano Concerto is perhaps not so outstanding, lacking some degree of the brio which is an essential part of its character. Even then it is worth hearing for the imaginative way in which soloist and orchestra interact and for its unsentimental poetry.

She recorded the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Hungaroton. I have not heard those performances but the seven Sonatas included here surely whet the appetite to do so. There is a total absence of any feeling of routine and an abundance of imagination at work here. The same applies to the Schubert Sonata in which the opening is allowed a deceptive degree of innocence before the composer springs one surprise after another. The other two concertos are perhaps the odd ones out but each comes up with real freshness. It is worth remembering that she won the First International Liszt Piano Competition in Budapest in 1933 and that she often played the music of Bartók. Both of the performances here make one wish that she had recorded more of the music of these composers.

The discs are well filled and the sound is more than acceptable. The booklet includes a lengthy and interesting essay by Leslie Gerber about the pianist. Each of these eight discs contains playing of supreme imagination and musicality. Whilst listening to them makes one regret that Annie Fischer did not make more recordings, there is more than enough in this wonderful box to give enormous and continuing pleasure.
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