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Beethoven Fischer ICAC5165
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No 1 (1797?)
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28 (Pastoral) (1801)
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 (1820)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1822)
Annie Fischer (piano)
rec. Maida Vale Studio, London 1971 (No. 19), 1977 (15 & 32), 1987 (30)

Annie Fischer's discography is disappointingly limited. Such an utterly musical and deeply satisfying pianist – one should add genuine and unaffected – ought to be better represented. All the more welcome, therefore, is this CD. Beethoven's music was central to her playing career, from her debut in the First Concerto to the fifteen-year recording project (from 1976) covering all the sonatas. To those relatively unfamiliar with Ms. Fischer's artistry I would say: make a point of buying some of her recordings. As one might remark of many a great artist – she plays with just enough self-effacement. It is as though we hear Beethoven through the medium of Annie Fischer, but with no shortage of personality. She conveys profundity, nobility, elegance, humanity, spirituality and muscularity. The G minor Sonata can easily come over as a minor piece but here it has stature. The so-called Pastoral Sonata is beautifully interpreted, the opening movement spacious but animated where necessary. Then the performance of the second movement shows how a degree of restraint may produce a powerful, perfectly judged effect. There is no exaggeration, everything is natural and compelling. It is difficult to do justice to the supreme quality of this musicianship with generalised, banal description. Playing as exceptional as this deserves to be widely circulated. In the E major Sonata Ms Fischer achieves sublimity without any sense of striving. The Prestissimo second movement has drama without being hectic or blustery, then the final variation-movement exudes serenity and simplicity. This is a master class in how to convey the unaffected beauty of the music without “milking” or underlining.

Finally, the Opus 111 Sonata is as wonderful as we are probably led to expect by this point. What calm, effortless sublimity at the opening of the variation movement. There are momentary imprecisions – here and occasionally elsewhere - but these are insignificant in the context of such commanding performances. I can express no greater admiration than to say that I was often reminded of Richter, who for me is the greatest of all. Technically Ms Fischer is not as fearless, but which other pianist is? In any case, her vision of the music is never compromised. The quality of the piano sound is a little hard, even uningratiating, but this should deter nobody from buying this glorious recording. Thank goodness the BBC did not destroy these recordings, as they have done with some other outstanding examples of music, drama or comedy.

The brief but informative booklet notes by Jean-Charles Hoffelé (in English, German and French) comprise an appreciative and valuable summary of Annie Fischer's career.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

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