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Edwin Fischer

Edwin Fischer


Composers discussed on this page:

  • Concerto Recordings
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Franz Schubert
  • Mozart, Bach, and the Baroque
  • For more information:

  • Arbiter Records Pianists Museum (short biography)
  • Philips Great Pianists of the Century Series (biography and selected recordings)
  • Teri Noel Towe (historical recordings engineer with a few Fischer reissues)

  • Posted to: rec.music.classical.recordings
    Subject: Edwin Fischer
    Date: Fri, 24 Mar 1995

    Ian Bell asks:

    Can someone suggest some (currently available) recordings by Edwin Fischer?

    Fischer was one of the great pianists of the 20th century. He was born in Switzerland in 1886, to a father who was alive when Beethoven walked the earth, and whose grandfather was alive at the time of Johann Sebastian Bach! His wild, Eraserhead-like shock of hair is unmistakeable, as is the fierce probing intelligence that informs his playing. Like Artur Schnabel, Fischer tended to stress interpretation and meaning over pure digital skill, so there are sometimes rough patches in his playing, but often the insights that he offers make up for that.

    The liner notes accompanying a CD I recently bought suggested that Fischer's best work was done before WW II, when his technique was somewhat more secure. There are several groups of Fischer recordings: some are studio efforts made for EMI, both before and after the war, others are concert performances that have found their way to CD on various reissue and semi-pirate labels.

    Concerto Recordings

    Off the top of my head, there's Fischer's two great concerto collaborations with Wilhelm Furtwaengler. EMI has the towering "Emperor," recorded after WW II with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and several labels, including DG and Music and Arts, have issued a gorgeous, deeply personal account of the Brahms 2nd with the Berlin PO from wartime (the DG is on 427 778-2, though I suspect it might be deleted). They also performed one movement of Furtwaengler's Symphony-Concerto, which I've never heard.

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    Ludwig van Beethoven

    (This segment was posted to rec.music.classical.recordings on Tue, 24 Sep 1996.

    Ruediger Fritsch wrote:

    What I would like to know is which Beethoven sonatas with Fischer are actually available on CD? I have only one (the one that comes bundled with the 5th piano concerto; am I the only one who likes the sonata on this disc more than the concerto??).

    A search of H&B Direct's database pulled up the following CD's:

  • Dante HPC 007 (semi-pirate Italian label, historically shaky sound quality)
    Concerto for Piano No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73 "Emperor"
    Piano Sonata #31 in Ab, Op. 110
    Fischer (pno), Bohm/Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra

    These are both prewar recordings.

  • Pearl GEMM 9218
    Concerto for Piano No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73 "Emperor"
    Fischer, Bohm/DSO. +Pno. Son. Nos. 8, 23

    This is the CD referred to by Matthew and Deryk in previous posts; I believe they're prewar recordings of the Pathetique and Appassionata.

  • EMI CDH 7 61005 2
    Concerto for Piano No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73 "Emperor", Furtwaengler/Philharmonia Orchestra
    Piano Sonata No. 7 in D, Op. 10, No. 3

    This is the "Emperor" that I keep coming back to (and yes, I like it more than the sonata recording). The concerto was recorded in February 1951, the sonata in May of 1954. Both are studio recordings.

  • In addition, I have the following:
  • Orfeo C 270 921 B
    Piano Concerto #4 in G, Op. 58 (Bavarian Radio SO/Eugen Jochum, 11/51)
    Piano Sonata #8 in c, Op. 13 (11/52)
    Fantasy in g/Bb, Op. 77 (11/52)

    All of these are live performances. I find the concerto disappointing, personally (maybe because Jochum isn't as compelling for me as Furtwaengler or Clemens Krauss). The solo pieces are available on ...

  • Music and Arts CD CD-880, 2 CD's
    Disc One:
  • Piano Sonata #8 in c, Op. 13 ("Pathetique" - 11/52)
  • Piano Sonata #21 in C, Op. 53 ("Waldstein" - 7/54)
  • Piano Sonata #30 in E, Op. 109 (12/54)
  • Piano Sonata #14 in c#, Op. 27/2 ("Moonlight" - c.1949)
  • Disc Two:
  • Piano Sonata #7 in D, Op. 10/3 (12/48)
  • Piano Sonata #15 in D, Op. 28 ("Pastoral" - 7/54)
  • Piano Sonata #32 in c, Op. 111 (7/54)
  • Fantasy in g/Bb, Op. 77 (11/52)
  • These are all live performances from various sources. (They have been issued, without the Moonlight or Fantasy, on two separate CD's by Italian semi-pirates like Hunt/Arkadia; those CD's feature worse sound and less music.) They're post-war, and Fischer's technique is sadly uneven. Still, there is playing that is at least interesting, and in some cases, inspirational. Fischer's live performances of the Pathetique, Op. 10/3, and Pastoral rank with the very finest, in my book, and this Op. 10/3 better than the one on EMI. Not a bad way to start delving into Fischer's art.

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    Franz Schubert

    Fischer recorded the Schubert Impromptus before the war. He was much more technically on target at that time, and the Impromptu set that he made captures the best of both worlds, IMO -- it has that loose, spontaneous feel that suggests that the music is being improvised on the spot. At the same time, there's a sense of inevitability, as though there were no other way that this improvisation could have turned out. It grabbed at my attention from the first time I heard it, and it remains one of my favorite piano recordings ever made.

    It's available in a few incarnations. There are lovely-sounding reissues on APR and Pearl, coupled with a fine Wanderer Fantasy. Several other editions (some pirated) offer the same coupling.

    Fischer was also capable of being a remarkably sensitive accompanist. Try to find an EMI compilation of Schubert songs, where Fischer's intelligent style serves as a perfect foil to Elizabeth Schwarzkopf's probing interpretations.

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    Old Masters

    I have heard tell that Fischer's work with Mozart was also very fine, though I can't confirm or deny; his prewar studio recordings of the concerti for EMI have been reissued on Pearl, but tend to be hard to find.

    Finally, Fischer was a Bach player of rare refinement and musicianship. His pioneering recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier remains one of the finest, and has been available on 3 EMI CD's. He also made a classic series of recordings of the keyboard concerti, along with other solo pieces, for EMI with a chamber orchestra of his own devising. (I think there may also be a complete Brandenburg cycle.) These are in the process of being reissued, again on EMI's Great Recordings of the Century Series; CDH 7 63039 2 and CDH 7 64928 2 should still be available, and include a series of concerti recorded with Fischer's characteristic brand of intelligent, thoughtful, stylish musicianship, and the latter CD has some solo pieces including a uniquely compelling Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.

    Written in January of 1998, about Pearl GEMM CD 9481

  • Handel: Chaconne in G
  • Marcello arr. Bach: Adagio from Concerto #3 in d
  • Bach arr. Busoni: Prelude and Fugue in Eb S.552
  • Mozart: Piano Sonata in A K.331
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata in Ab, Op. 110
  • Schubert: Impromptu in Bb Op. 142/3
  • Bach arr. Fischer: Ricercar a 6 from Musikalisches Opfer S.1079
  • Edwin Fischer, piano (conducting a chamber orchestra in the Ricercar)

    An interesting compilation sampling a range of Fischer's art. I found most of the Baroque stuff less than compelling; I've heard Bach organ works played by organists with a more organ-like sonority (perhaps by using more bass and pedal?), and found myself yearning for an organ, particularly in the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue. The Handel Chaconne is interesting, though -- in Fischer's hands, you almost feel like you've tuned into a lost Goldberg Variation, or something.

    The Schubert I already know from a complete set of the Impromptus, and love dearly. The Beethoven left me oddly disappointed. Perhaps it's the prewar recorded sound (and the awareness of fine modern-sound recordings like Stephen Kovacevich on EMI), but I didn't find the kind of logic and sweep that I was hoping for from Fischer's hands. The Mozart, though, is a gem: lovely and lyrical without ever being precious, a wonderful recording. The closing Ricercar is a new arrangement to me, though I wonder how much it influenced other arrangements, like Neville Marriner's, for instance.

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    Last updated: October 13, 1999 by James C.S. Liu

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