WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas, Hob. XVI:34, 37, 43, 50 & 52,
PERFORMER: Nadia Reisenberg (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 64405-70806 ADD mono
The Swiss pianist EDWIN FISCHER is probably best remembered nowadays as an exemplary interpreter of German repertoire. His Thirties recordings of Bach’s keyboard works, now reissued on two double-pack Pearl releases, are particularly regarded as landmark performances on a par with Casals’s versions of the Cello Suites, or the Busch Quartet’s renditions of the late Beethoven quartets. Despite drastically changing attitudes towards Baroque performance practice during the last 20 or so years, such an accolade still remains justifiable. There’s an intellectual honesty about Fischer’s playing that makes the piano sound absolutely the ideal instrument for this music. Voicing in the Fugues of both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier is well-nigh miraculous in terms of clarity of line and tonal direction. Fischer’s tempi are also admirably judged to suit the distinctive character of each piece. Only the over-Romantic performance of the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue sounds somewhat anachronistic, especially as played here in the corrupt von Bülow edition. But given the excellent transfers and generous playing times of each disc, this release is guaranteed a mandatory recommendation.
One is invariably suspicious of any disc that comes with the appendage ‘acclaimed’, especially if the artist concerned is not exactly a household name. Nonetheless, the ‘acclaimed Haydn recordings’ of Lithuanian-born pianist NADIA REISENBERG (1904-83) on Ivory deserve serious attention. She provides exceptionally refined and characterful playing of some of Haydn’s best-known keyboard sonatas, and she is equally compelling in the marvellous Andante and Variations in F minor. Originally issued on the Westminster label in the mid-Fifties, these recordings have good definition.
As it happens, Reisenberg’s name also turns up, albeit in rather different circumstances as second pianist in a duo arrangement of the ubiquitous Scherzo from Litolff’s Fourth Concerto symphonique – part of the disc LEGENDARY PIANO DUOS featuring two-piano and piano duet music as recorded on a 1929 Hamburg Steinway Duo-Art instrument. Controversy still rages over the efficacy and accuracy of recent transcriptions of such mechanical systems, and the rather lumpy chords in the middle section of the Litolff make one fear the worst. But the disc should certainly attract aficionados of English music for two rare items – Delius’s North Country Sketches featuring Percy Grainger and Ralph Leopold, and the First Symphonic Dance by Cyril Scott with Grainger and the composer. With such interesting performers as Walter Damrosch, Harold Bauer, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Myra Hess and Ignaz Friedman also in tow, this is a potentially fascinating disc, though the lack of documentation is disappointing.
No such problems beset the complete commercial recordings of the Liszt pupil EMIL VON SAUER (1862-1942): there is detailed background to all the performances, as well as an in-depth biographical study of a pianist who is still largely undervalued. Sauer’s early discography, dating from the Twenties, is mainly devoted to short salon pieces, and it is somewhat disconcerting to hear an abridged version of Schumann’s Carnaval in this context. But the technique is dazzling and remains so until his final recordings during the Second World War. Of particular interest are the 1938 recordings of the Liszt Piano Concertos with Weingartner as conductor – the interpretations eschew conventional bombast and may seem staid, but musical considerations remain paramount.
Sauer’s contemporary, the Polish-born IGNAZ FRIEDMAN, also possessed a dazzling technique, but provides a more intimate and subtle approach, especially in a selection of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words and Chopin’s Mazurkas recorded during the Thirties. Purists will no doubt raise eyebrows over the textual addition to the final run in the Third Ballade, but the performance is captivating, threading a convincing narrative through Chopin’s musical argument. Biddulph’s transfers are effective, though the sound in places seems a little muffled.
A two-disc set of Debussy’s piano music by French pianist ROBERT CASADESUS is of more recent provenance, comprising recordings made in the early Fifties. The Préludes, though not quite in the class of Gieseking or Krystian Zimerman, provide ample testimony to the pianist’s fastidiousness and Classical poise. Casadesus avoids the temptation to overheat works such as L’isle joyeuse, and is suitably whimsical in Children’s Corner. Some of the most impressive playing comes in the Images where he effects a perfect balance between faithful adherence to Debussy’s markings and a necessary element of fantasy.