Beethoven: Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux); Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux); Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier)
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 446 093-2
The last time the Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer appeared in the UK was in 1992, when she stepped in at fairly short notice for an indisposed Alfred Brendel at the Royal Festival Hall. She was then nearly 78. As an encore, Fischer played the finale of the Hammerklavier – her farewell to London, though she couldn’t have known it, and she did play elsewhere until shortly before her death last year.


Fischer disliked recording, but these BBC studio performances, which date from 1971, 1977 and 1987, would probably have been single takes and there are some smudges, about as significant as specks of dust on the face of Chartres Cathedral. Opp. 109 and 111 are peerless and beyond criticism – the innermost voice of the divine, yet ruggedly human, full of warmth. The version here of Op. 111 is more magisterially poised, as well as better recorded, than EMI’s, recent reissue, so I’m afraid you’ve got to buy it.

Brendel is now in his mid-sixties, but he still hasn’t reached Fischer’s spiritual level. He is a perfectionist, edgy and highly-strung, and his live performance of the Hammerklavieris just a bit on the careful side, witha rather steady first movement and a final fugue that never threatens to break the piano apart. The scherzo is surprisingly prim, the slow movement intelligent rather than wise.


Les adieux (a studio recording on a notably gleaming piano) opens exquisitely, but then fails totake off, and the finale fallsshort of ultimate enthusiasm at a friend’s return. Adrian Jack