The Beethoven symphonies: all nine of them stunning masterworks, all nine performed countless times. Be that as it may, there are conductors who can re-contextualize these symphonies in such a way that they sound completely new, as Ivan Fischer proved in 2013 and 2014 in his Beethoven Series with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, spread out over two seasons. This is a veritable journey of discovery through a familiar landscape.
This set of Annie Fischer’s complete EMI recordings represent her during a particular decade, when she had made her European reputation. These recordings helped spread that reputation and increased her prominence among pianists. As studio recordings, they form an unusual part of Fischer’s legacy – during most of her time as a performer, she avoided recording studios as she did not believe in playing in a studio without the presence of an audience. She shared this view with her eminent colleague Sviatoslav Richter, who said of her, ‘Annie Fischer is a great artist, imbued with a spirit of greatness and genuine profundity.
Conductor Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra give an enchanting performance of Beethoven's together with works from Weber, Rossini and Wilms.
This was to be the end of the line for Italian word-setting by Viennese composers: once the confident sentiments that belonged to the poet Metastasio's opera seria felt the chill and threatening wind of Enlightenment and Revolution, their time was up. Even we, for the most part, prefer to remember the German-speaking Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. So it is good to be reminded of their responses to the Italian muse (usually as part of their craft-learning student work) in this particularly well-cast recital. Central Europe, in the person of Andras Schiff meets Italy, in Cecilia Bartoli, to delightful, often revelatory effect.
Maria João Pires “shapes and colours every phrase, and with immaculate taste, and she makes sure the phrases end as eloquently as they begin,” wrote Gramophone in 1974. “She conveys not just the details but the relevance of every note to the whole … Best of all, she communicates everything she has discovered about the music, and it is worth having.” This Portuguese pupil of Wilhelm Kempff, Pires was one of the artists who defined the Erato label in the 1970s and 1980s. This 5-CD box gathers together the recordings she made over the period from 1976 to 1985 and it reflects the consistent focus of her repertoire, with its special emphasis on Austro-German composers of the Classical and early-Romantic periods. Embracing solo works, piano duets and concertos, it contains works by Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, but also by Bach and Chopin.
Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer suffered reprisals for her Jewish background, but after the Second World War she enjoyed her international breakthrough with Mozart playing of gentle elegance, supple virtuosity and dramatic power.
The East German-born Stephan Genz, still in his mid-twenties, brings an engaging voice and glowing dramatic sense to this desirable Beethoven collection. Some of the ballad-like songs undoubtedly suit his rich, warm, darkish timbres especially well (‘Klage’ – ‘Lament’, or the mournful ‘Vom Tode’); yet he relishes, too, the lively patter of ‘Neue Liebe, neues Leben’, which, with Vignoles’s lively accompaniment, takes instant flight. The phrasing is nicely sustained, though Genz’s rather self-conscious, earnest delivery can be fractionally unsteady (chiefly in the descent to cadences, a slight overweighting of second syllables, the arching up towards higher notes, and scattered patches of chromatic detail). Goethe’s ‘Es war einmal ein König’ and Gellert’s ‘Busslied’ both hint at the wider emotional range to which this young singer can aspire. His contrast between the end of Goethe’s poignantly pleading ‘Wonne der Wehmut’ and the lightly alert ‘Sehnsucht’ could not be more charming.