Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3; Concerto in C Major for Piano Trio and Orch. – Annie Fischer, p./ Bavarian State Orch./ Geza Anda, p./ Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, v./ Pierre Fournier, cello/ Berlin Radio Sym. Orch./ Ferenc Fricsay – Pristine Audio

The Fricsay centennial has two Beethoven performances of exquisite Romantic power and beauty restored.

Published on January 9, 2014

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3; Concerto in C Major for Piano Trio and Orch. – Annie Fischer, p./ Bavarian State Orch./ Geza Anda, p./ Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, v./ Pierre Fournier, cello/ Berlin Radio Sym. Orch./ Ferenc Fricsay – Pristine Audio

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; Concerto in C Major for Piano Trio and Orchestra, Op. 56 – Annie Fischer, piano (Op. 37)/ Bavarian State Orch./ Geza Anda, p./ Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, violin/ Pierre Fournier, cello/ Berlin Radio Sym. Orch./ Ferenc Fricsay – Pristine Audio PASC 400, 72:39 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

The year 2014 marks the centennial of the birth of Hungarian virtuoso conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963), a maestro of rare accomplishments whose clarity and passionate precision often resulted in favorable comparisons of his interpretations with those of Toscanini and Furtwaengler. Producer and restoration editor Andrew Rose resuscitates two potent renditions from Fricsay’s extensive Beethoven legacy: the 3 December 1957 Beethoven C Minor Concerto with Annie Fischer and the “Triple” Concerto from 1 May 1960. A conversation about Fricsay with the late Janos Starker led to that keen musician’s remark that Fricsay’s chronic health problems had “transfigured him musically as well as spiritually, and the result was palpable in his playing.”

Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer (1914-1995), Fricsay’s exact contemporary, provides a rounded, glowing account of the Third Concerto, her left hand a powerhouse of ravishing chords as the music flows and declaims the various periods either percussively or in cascades of runs. Fricsay’s tuttis loom large and magnificent.  A mood of ominous drama as well as overt, singing lyricism pervades the first movement, where the interplay of winds, tympani, and piano achieve a sonorous tide of potent motion. The conception unites two ardent Romantic artists in a true collaboration of resonant power that does not lack for inwardness and intimacy when required. Her cadenza actually conveys the feeling of a peasant dance along with its brilliant fioritura. 

The E Major Largo enjoys a sweet girth, bold in conception as well as lustrous, resonant in the bass while bassoon, flute, and plucked strings intone over and through the keyboard filigree. The driven finale rings with wit and jubilant excitement, Fischer’s seemingly relishing every pointed trill and strummed attack. The various enharmonic in-jokes from Beethoven do not pass by unnoticed by the principals, who inflect their tempos to adjust to the modulation into the minor which eventually emerges in D-flat Major. Fricsay savors the polyphonic periods, his Bavarian strings bouncing with electric fervor and his woodwinds consistently warm and luxuriously colored. But Fischer’s brisk elan in all parts surely wins the berries in this performance, now sounding especially lustrous in its XR incarnation.

A magnificent gloom opens the 1804 C Major “Triple” Concerto, certainly among Beethoven’s most “archaic” conceptions, a kind of sinfonia concertante or adjusted concerto grosso along classical, symmetrical lines. Beethoven has the cello – here executed by an inspired Pierre Fournier – lead the entries of the trio throughout the concerto. The secondary theme’s appearance in A Major rather than in the dominant makes for interesting speculations about its effect on a musical mind like that of Schubert. The tight dynamic space of the composition prevents Beethoven from expanding on themes melodically, so he resorts to repeated figures and colossal periods of ornament to extend the color line.  Schneiderhahn and Anda, in their own sweet dialogues, suggest what they might have achieved as an artistic duo, say, in the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas. The rhythmic pulse has as much of the Fifth Symphony as does the G Major Piano Concerto. But even as Anda and Schniederhahn lay with romantic ardor, Fournier steals the show at every turn, infusing a passionate expressivity that never diminishes. A rapt Largo of subtle profundity yields to the inventive Rondo (polonaise) that rounds out a performance of, dare I say, creamy magnitude: rich, lilting, and infinitely colored by musicians of superb, equal temperaments.  It was this performance – and that of Fricsay’s Double Concerto of Brahms – that haunted Starker’s fond memories of his gifted colleague.

—Gary Lemco




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