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Hyperion Records

APR5515 - Schubert: Impromptus & 'Wanderer' Fantasy

Recording details: Various dates
Abbey Road Studios, London, United Kingdom
Release date: December 1995
Total duration: 72 minutes 33 seconds

Impromptus & 'Wanderer' Fantasy
No 1 in C minor: Allegro molto moderato  [8'19]  recorded 9 March 1938
No 2 in E flat major: Allegro  [4'12]  recorded 9 March 1938
No 3 in G flat major: Andante  [4'59]  recorded 9 March 1938
No 4 in A flat major: Allegretto  [7'29]  recorded 9 March 1938
No 1 in F minor: Allegro moderato  [8'27]  recorded 8 March 1938
No 2 in A flat major: Allegretto  [4'39]  recorded 8 March 1938
No 3 in B flat major: Andante with variations  [9'27]  recorded 8 March 1938
No 4 in F minor: Allegro scherzando  [4'55]  recorded 8 March 1938
Allegro con fuoco, ma non troppo  [5'48]  recorded 24 May 1934
Adagio  [6'54]  recorded 24 May 1934
Presto  [4'20]  recorded 24 May 1934
Allegro  [3'04]  recorded 24 May 1934

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Edwin Fischer A personal reminiscence
Remembering Edwin Fischer from his gramophone records tends to convey a rather one-sided portrait of the man. First and foremost, he hated the confines of the recording studio. He was, like Furtwängler, a spontaneous musician and felt that recording in five minute takes, as was necessary in the ‘78 days’, could not possibly give an overall view of a masterpiece. A comparison between his studio recordings and the surviving documentation of his live concerts, where everything is free from microphone anxieties, is revealing in this respect. This is not to suggest, however, that many great performances did not emanate from the studio, significantly the Schubert Wanderer Fantasie and both sets of Impromptus presented here.

It is often suggested that Fischer’s repertoire only extended to that which appeared on records. Nothing could be further from the truth. During my studies with him the range of music he knew and played was phenomenal; Debussy, Chopin, Hindemith, Stravinsky, and Scriabin are just a few composers who come to mind in pianistic terms and I remember Nicolai Medtner recalling that one of the best performances he had heard of his large scale Piano Sonata in E minor was that given by Fischer in Paris during the 1920s. Furthermore Fischer’s knowledge of the orchestral repertoire was vast. He conducted symphonies from Haydn and Mozart to Bruckner and Tchaikovsky and could, for instance, strum out Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on the piano from any point in the score. When he directed concertos by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven from the keyboard he was no passive conductor as is often the case today. Fischer actually stood and conducted during tuttis, discreetly filling in with chords where required and fusing the piano and orchestra together with identical phrasing and nuance. The result was pure Chamber music with a real personality in charge.

When illness forced Fischer to give up active playing after 1957 many interesting recording plans had to be abandoned, including the complete Brandenburg Concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra, some Beethoven sonatas, – including the Moonlight, Waldstein and Hammerklavier – a Brahms song recital with Schwarzkopf, and Schubert and Brahms four-handed piano music with Gieseking. It is fortunate, however, that radio recordings of performances by the Fischer-Schneiderhan-Mainardi Trio exist, as here he is at his most relaxed.

His patience as a teacher was infinite. I remember how he made one of his students repeat the fourth bar of the Andante of Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D. 784 at length until the right ‘atmosphere’ had been achieved. This was more important to him than the mere mechanical process of the correct notes, though he expected his pupils to be technically proficient before they came to him. A lesson on Chopin’s Third Scherzo in his headlong no-nonsense approach made strenuous demands on a student, but Fischer then astonished us by playing the piece through from memory, following it with a wonderfully poetic account of the Barcarolle.

His very presence in the class could usually make the student overreach himself and an anecdote or comparison would convey much more meaning than an academic disection of a piece. On one occasion I played the Chopin Polonaise in C minor in a manner which he thought was perhaps too ‘classical’ in style. Seeing my rather crestfallen expression he smiled mischeviously and added, ‘Chopin sounding like Beethoven – that is an event!’
(© Gerald Kingsley, 1995)

Edwin Fischer A biography
Edwin Fischer was born on 6 October 1886 in Basel. Both his parents came from musical families; his father, a selfstyled ‘contemporary of Beethoven’ born in 1826, played the oboe in the Basel orchestra and viola in a string quartet. The first sign of the young Edwin’s talents came when he played a note on his parents’ piano and announced ‘That’s G’. By the age of 10 he was sufficiently advanced to be accepted by the Basel Conservatory.

His father died while Edwin was about three years old, and his mother took charge of his development. She was ambitious for him but wisely concentrated his efforts into training and study rather than forcing him to become a prodigy. In 1904 she took him to Berlin to study at the Stern Conservatory with Martin Krause, a former pupil and assistant of Liszt. Fischer himself subsequently became a professor at the Stern Conservatory, though probably later than 1905, the date sometimes cited for this appointment.

By the early 1920s Fischer had developed an enthusiastic following as a soloist, but he never cared to make this his only activity. He formed a celebrated trio with Georg Kulenkampff and Enrico Mainardi. He pursued a secondary career as a conductor, directing the Lübeck Musikverein from 1926 and the Munich Bachverein from 1928, and formed his own Chamber orchestra to perform baroque and classical works. He researched and published editions of Bach keyboard works, Mozart piano sonatas, and (with Kulenkampff) the Beethoven violin sonatas, seeking to remove earlier editors’ ‘improvements’ and to restore the Urtext. Like many interpreters of his generation he was also a composer; his works include songs, piano pieces, and cadenzas (not beyond criticism) for some of the Mozart and Beethoven concertos. And he was an inspiring teacher, still remembered with respect and affection by former students including Alfred Brendel and Paul Badura-Skoda.

Fischer lived and worked in Berlin until 1942. While he seems to have had no particular interest in politics, he was far from being an admirer of the Nazi regime and resigned from the Hochschule für Musik in 1933 when his Jewish colleagues were expelled. He finally returned to Switzerland after his house was destroyed in an air raid, continuing his teaching work at the Lucerne Conservatory. Deteriorating health impaired his playing in later life, and he made no records after 1954. He died in a Zurich hospital on 24 January 1960.

The records which he made for HMV and Electrola between 1931 and 1942 are in general his most successful; the complete Well-Tempered Clavier is a landmark in the history of recording. These discs show that his technique, though certainly never perfect, was far more secure than it became towards the end of his career. From 1947 onwards he visited the studio more reluctantly and with less consistent results. The best of these later records are perhaps those in which sympathetic partners compensated for the absence of an audience: the Philharmonia in Bach, Gioconda de Vito in the Brahms violin sonatas, Furtwängler in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto. Fortunately this legacy is complemented by some inspired performances from live broadcasts, which also preserve his interpretations of works which he never recorded for commercial release.

Fischer’s writings show how carefully he considered the interpreters role. In his youth, he writes, he learned a tradition in which ‘the score was a strict law, the time inviolable, the form sacred’, admirable in many ways yet susceptible to pedantry and philistinism. Then carne Romanticism: ‘What Schumann and Liszt sowed, we have harvested; much that is imaginative, free and dreamlike, but also much excess of feeling, variation of tempo, arpeggios and use of pedal’. (It is interesting to note that distinct classical and romantic styles existed side by side in Fischer’s youth.) In the context of his time he was an advocate of authentic performance, and he welcomed the purifying influence of artists such as Busoni and Toscanini.

But he also saw the potential sterility of the trend, already current in his day, towards literalism and mechanical perfection. For Fischer, interpretation was fundamentally a spiritual quest. He adhered to the concept of the masterpiece in composition – his essays on the Beethoven sonatas have a firm musicological basis – but his thinking on the relationship between score and performance took him dose to the intuitive, non-didactic world of Eastern philosophy. Technique, textual fidelity and analysis were all indispensible, but so were experience of life, closeness to nature, the capacity for humility. Ronald Smith, in an illuminating account of the recording of the Bach C major triple concerto, emphasises that ‘the whole idea of a definitive performance would have been alien to Fischer’. But perhaps Fischer’s own words, from a lecture to his students, best convey his conception of the relationship between score and performance and of the ultimate goal of the performer:

‘A piano piece well played merely in the pianistic sense is worthless. Only art experienced within, in which the personality plays a creative role, can be of interest or have validity. You must find yourselves.’

Roger Smithson © 1995

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