MOZART and SCHUBERT works played by pianist Annie Fischer – Praga Digitals

Hungarian virtuoso Annie Fischer brings refined energy and passion to Mozart in classic performances.

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in d, K. 466; Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482; Rondo in D Major for Piano and Orchestra, K. 382; SCHUBERT: Impromptu in f, D. 935, No. 4 – Annie Fischer, p./ Philharmonia Orch./ Sir Adrian Boult (K. 466)/ Wolfgang Sawallisch (K. 482)/ Hungarian Radio Sym. Orch./ Ervin Lukacs – Praga Digitals PRD 250339, 81:58 (10/7/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer (1914-1996) remained the darling of Mozart interpretation, along with Clara Haskil, though Fischer could be more intense and aggressive in her performances. Andras Schiff credits her with some of “the most poetic playing” of his experience. Various conductors assisted Fischer in her Mozart journeys: Otto Klemperer, Ferenc Fricsay, Wolgang Sawallisch, and Adrian Boult.  The present collection assembles London performances from 1959 and 1965, while the Rondo has its recording location in Budapest of 1959.

The collaboration on the 1785 d minor Concerto (February 1959) with Sir Adrian Boult establishes a truly ominous atmosphere of sturm und drang, later affirmed by the Beethoven cadenza. The powerful opening motives, however turbulent, find no echo in the solo, whose entrance at bar 77 seems an attempt at reconciliation. Fischer’s playing remains resolute and decisive, despite the sometimes gentle filigree that floats and flows in the manner of a music box. The Philharmonia woodwinds, particularly, the oboe and bassoon, add to the richly ornate colors that evolve within the plastic exposition. In her solo moments, Fischer finds an exalted intimacy in Mozart. The ever-literalist Boult finds much passion in his contribution, often eliciting whirlwinds and shrieks from his Philharmonia strings. Fischer’s execution of the Beethoven cadenza proves both massive and diaphanous, at once, all with a spontaneity requisite to an improvisation. The finality of her last chord ushers in a fury of an orchestral coda not to be forgotten.

The second movement Romanza (Andante) provides us a haunting rondo that occupies its unique spatial sanctum, here resonant with a decisively romantic approach to the figures, especially in the g minor episode. The episode ends with an aerial ascent into the refined light of the enchanted romance melody. The last movement, Rondo: Allegro assai literally bristles with fevered excitement, the d minor affect once more in heated fury. Suddenly, the sun burst forth, and Fischer and Boult cavort in D Major. Fischer adds her own, assertive fioritura to the liquid runs, and Boult responds with fire. Mozart once more explores the depth of g minor – and the Beethoven cadenza has uttered a “fate” motif – before the major mode has a final comment on the wondrous spectacle that has passed.

The “ceremonial” Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major ((1785) proffers a bounty of melodies from its outset, the opening tutti resonant with instrumental color. Fischer and Sawallisch (April 1959) seem to take divergent paths at her entry, rife as it with ornate runs and trills. The arioso writing appears meant for the operatic – especially Figaro – stage, with impressive leaps in the vocal line, suddenly interrupted by Fischer’s descent into b-flat minor. A brief but noble melodic tune enters, consoling and blissful. The constant runs and scalar passagework test wrists and digits as few Mozart concertos do, but Fischer’s serenity of execution never falters. The bassoon adds a moment or two of rustic charm to an otherwise epically galant construct. The glittering and declamatory cadenza – by Johann Nepomuk Hummel – reveals why that composer forges the natural link between Mozart and Chopin. Most poignant, the “c minor Adagio” moves us with an emotion close to that of the Masonic Funeral Music. Fischer and Sawallisch then engage in three ornate variations, one of whose episodes involves a haunted combination of flute and bassoon. There sound distinct anticipations of the Concerto No. 24 in c minor, here utilizing clarinets for the first time. The last variation, dramatic and expansive, vacillates between major and minor mode with a sense of extreme ecstasies, more common to Liszt than to Mozart. Mozart employs a 6/8 “hunting” motif for his finale, a festive dance of often gurgling harmonies that Mozart will interrupt with a courtly minuet, andantino cantabile. The usual Mozart formulas apply until the Hummel cadenza and the coda, when the piano delays the conclusion with a bit of whimsical flirtation made ever more attractive by the obvious rapport between Fischer and Sawallisch.

The clever Rondo in D (17782) came to me via Edwin Fischer, courtesy of EMI’s coupling with the very Concerto No. 22 cited above. Mozart wanted an alternative final movement for his Concerto No. 5 of 1773.  Though entitled “rondo,” the form remains a theme and variations, allegretto grazioso. Mozart adds one flute to instrumental mix. Fischer and the Budapest ensemble (February 1965) provide an opera buffa character to the whole, festive and plastically effective.

Fischer adds an encore to the Budapest session, Schubert’s 1827 homage to Jan Vorisek and his 1822 set of impromptus. The lively f minor Impromtu (allegro scherzando) has Fischer’s executing octave leaps and whirling scale figures, all the while moving between the triple to duple time characteristic of Czech dances.

—Gary Lemco


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