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Well Tempered Clavier Book I BWV 846-869

Edwin Fischer (Piano)

Fischer’s WTC I on Naxos

K-4

J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1

WTC 1: 24 Preludes & Fugues BWV 846-869

Edwin Fischer (Piano)

Naxos

Apr, Sep 1933; May, Jul 1934

2-CD / TT: 106:50

Recorded at Studio No. 3 Abbey Road, London, England.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Jim Morrison wrote (July 26, 2001):
I've been sampling through Fischer's Book One of the WTC on Naxos. Initial impressions: lively interpretation, the inability to edit leads to refreshing alive-ness to the recording. (anyone ever released a truly live version of the WTC?) Tempos can sometimes be very fast. Case in point the very first in C Major he manages somehow to zip through in 1:25. Too fast. My hero van Asperen goes by in 2:49, long enough to really savor a big range of that Zell's color.

But at other times he takes his time, such as the final fugue in B minor, which comes in a 6:12. During those slow passages he reminds me a bit of Tureck, yet not with her amount of serenity or reverence. A "velvety pianissimo" I've seen the touch of some of his best work described as.

More than anyone, though, and take this from very early impressions, she reminds me of Hewitt, who I hold in the highest regard as a Bach pianist. She and Gould, in their own very different ways, are my favorite Bach-on-piano performers. A reviewer at Gramophone had this to say about Hewitt and Fischer: In respect of her restrained use of the sustaining pedal, her consequently clearly spoken articulation, and the resultant lucidity of musical thought, Hewitt brings to mind those still controversial recorded performances of Edwin Fischer.

They also seem more capable than others at making relatively big piano gestures sound natural and within the flow of the music, that is to say, with little that feels exaggerated and out-of-place.

I certainly recommend a recording of Fischer's WTC, which the liner notes tell me was the first complete WTC recorded on piano. (was there a harpsichord version before? Landowska perhaps? Anyone have a good history of who the first few people to record the WTC on any instruments were.) But this Naxos disc, as you may have heard from others, must have the most muffled sound of any I have. Even a recording I have of Cortot in the late 20's when compared to this Naxos recording of music in the early 30's, sounds better. I read that the EMI set (which can be had for around 30 dollars compared with the Naxos's 20-22 dollar range) sounds much better. Less crackle and hiss on the Naxos, but less dynamic and bright than the EMI.

What I wonder is, though, is it that significant of a difference? Am I missing too much of Fischer's sound to appreciate him. Or, since these are mono recordings from long ago, regardless of which I choose, I'll be listening to something very not-true to life, and so it doesn't matter much. Tough questions, I know.

Also, anyone know how long a side is on a 78 record? I've read that it lasted only four minutes! My goodness, how would you ever get through a symphony.

 

Feedback to the Review

Donald Satz wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I very much like Fischer's WTC mainly for the tension he instills. On the EMI set, this tension easily comes through; I've not heard the Naxos set. I haven't noticed much similarity between Fischer and Hewitt in their Bach performances; Hewitt's level of tension is much lower than Fischer's.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] In addition to his recordings, Edwin Fischer wrote some books about interpretation of piano music. I read some of his work from a library copy when I was a kid but I don't remember what he said.

John LaMontaine's WTC2 on Roland electric piano has the effect of being "live" -- he allowed himself no edits within any prelude or fugue. There are a few minor fumbles but he makes a good point about continuity. Fredonia FDCD-13 (two CDs) from 1992, Hollywood. The address is at
http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/5512/publshrs.html

78 rpm records hardly ever go much over 4.5 minutes for a 12-inch, or 3 something for a 10-inch. The effects of these limits on 20th century popular music are incalculable. The length of a song or an arrangement (the composer's canvas of time) is whatever fits onto one side of a record.......

[Hey Jim, here's an idea for you to research a bit: is John Cage's 4'33" in any way tied to the length of a 78 rpm record or is it a coincidence?]

TNT probably has quite a few interesting things to say about timing and interpretation from his work with 78 reissues. TNT?

John Thomas wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] The most recent EMI remastering is certainly better than the awful Ledin transfers on Naxos, but the best way to appreciate fully Fischer's touch and tone is on the Pearl set. A high tolerance for surface noise (and about 50 bucks) is necessary. You can't save the tone color without keeping the surface noise ;-(

Four minutes was indeed about the limit of a 78 rpm recording; now you know wjy the first complete SMP on records was Karajan's 1950.

Thomas Boyce wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Cage took the notion of 4' 33' from Finnegans Wake.

Thomas Boyce wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Indeed. I bought the Fischer (recommended by this group a year ago) and after the first fast prelude, I walked into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. You know, distract myself from the fact that I wasted my money.

A few preludes and fugues later, I found myself lying on the couch somewhat transfixed by his musicianship. So basically I agree with Mr. Satz's assessment of the EMI set.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] John Cage?!

Now, Brad, I thought you and I had a tacit understanding that we were not going to bring up Cage on _this_ list. :) Differences in harpsichords are great topics of discussion. But if we degenerate into such things as just what brand of toy piano is the most appropriate for Cage's "Suite for Toy Piano," well, I think the other list members will get restless. ;-)

I haven't listened to anymore of the Fischer, so I can't comment on it, but would people that are familiar with him say that he is a performer with a keen attention to the tonal color of his piano, such as someone like Hewitt, who I think is first rate in such matters. That is to say, with this Naxos recording, am I missing something essential from Fischer's playing, or would be more like, say, if I toned down the brightness from Gould's mono-recordings. Nothing essential would be lost in that case, I'd say. Lesser, yes, but I'd still have a good idea of what I meant to hear Gould. I'm I not really getting the Fischer experience? This is the first recording of him that I've heard.

That 4.5 minute time limit on 78s, by the way, means that a few of these fugues in Fischer's hands required a change of sides or discs. Amazing.

And thanks to Thomas for his funny "tea" story. Nothing I heard on the disc gave me a sense of disappointment like the C major prelude. From what I could tell, it was an anomaly, though tempos are still pretty fast on some of those preludes, but hey, many people play them fast, don't they?

I'd be interested to hear anything more about the 78 age.

Charles Francis wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Are we talking about Edwin Fischer's recordings from 1933-36? If so, you can get both books as part of a 20-CD set "Meisterwerke in historischen Einspielungen: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Matthäuspassion, Goldberg-Variationen, Orchesterwerke & Konzerte, Kammermusik, Magnificat, Kunst der Fuge, Orgelwerke, Brandenburgische Konzerte, Klavierwerke" from: http://www.zweitausendeins.de/

The cost is around 40.00 DM for the set (only 2 DM per CD!). There are many mistakes in Fi's performance, however, and he sometimes uses pedal, but this set is certainly worth having if only for Scherchen's brilliant Art of Fugue (my favourite BTW!). The complete contents are:

Bach, J.S. "Meisterwerke in historischen Einspielungen: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Matthäuspassion, Goldberg-Variationen, Orchesterwerke & Konzerte, Kammermusik, Magnificat, Kunst der Fuge, Orgelwerke, Brandenburgische Konzerte, Klavierwerke" Mit Edwin Fischer, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Vladimir Horowitz/Klavier, Albert Schweitzer/Orgel, Wanda Landowska/Cembalo, Sebastian Caratelli/Flöte, Pablo Casals/Cello, Andrés Segovia/Gitarre, Yehudi Menuhin, Adolf Busch, Frances Magnes/Violine, Marta Schilling, Gertrude Pitzinger, Heinz Marten, Gerhard Gröschel, Gérard Souzay, Hans Hotter, Tiana Lemnitz, Friedel Beckmann, Karl Erb, Gerhard Hüsch, Siegfried Schulze, Orchestre De Radio Beromünster/Hermann Scherchen, Philharmonia Orchestra/Anthony Bernard, Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Günther Ramin, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble De Solistes/Fritz Reiner, Wiener Philharmoniker/Hans Knappertsbusch, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent, Orchestre Symphonique De Paris/George Enescu, Kammerorchester Adolf Busch, Kammerorchester Edwin Fischer.
Aufnahmen 1927-1950.f History. AAD. 20 CDs
39.95 DM. Nr. 49898.

While your at, it pick up 20 CDs of Bach organ works by Wolfgang Stockmeier for another 40 DM. All performed on "authentic" organs, but in the old severe Germanic style, rather than with today's fashionable HIP-virtuosity:

Bach, J.S. "Das Orgelwerk" Unserer Meinung nach eine der technisch wie interpretatorisch besten Einspielungen des Werkes. Wolfgang Stockmeier/Orgel.
Art & Music. AAD. 20 CDs
39.95 DM. Nr. 40718.

To find these items search by the indicated number.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Ah, John Cage... I had the opportunity of meeting him, and interviewing him in 1987. At the time, I was editor of a journal on the I Ching here in France. It was a delightful meeting; he invited us to come to a gallery on New Year's Eve where he was beginning a marathon reading of Finnegans Wake. It was mesmerizing to hear him read the first part of the book.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 26, 2001):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Are we talking about Edwin Fischer's recordings from 1933-36? If so, you can get both books as part of a 20-CD set "Meisterwerke in historischen Einspielungen: >
I see why you are a member of the 900 club... :-)

Seriously, thank you for that reference. I will be ordering that set.

Philip Peters wrote (July 27, 2001):
[To Charles Francis] I did all that some time ago and this store often has incredible bargains (perhaps even more interesting to me as I live in Holland and shipping costs are nowhere near as high as they are for inhabitants of the New World). It pays off (hm...;)) to keep track of their special offers.

The Scherchen AoF is one of my favourites as well but I think I like the 1965 version even slightly better. Still, this is nitpicking and there are three more Scherchen AoF´s out there which I still haven´t got but plan to acquire...

Jim Morrison wrote (July 27, 2001):
I was just at the Berkshire site and noticed that they have a Fischer complete WTC for 12 dollars from ARKADIA. Any idea how that would sound. From some reason bells are going off in my head that say they have a dull/overly CEDERed sound as well.

 

Well Tempered Clavier Book I BWV 846-869: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
WTC I - D. Barenboim [D. Satz] | WTC I - D. Barenboim [P. Bright] | WTC I - T. Fellner | WTC I - E. Fischer | WTC I - M. Horszowski | WTC I - C. Jaccottet | WTC I - R. Kirkpatrick | WTC I - T. Koopman | WTC I - W. Landowska | WTC I - R. Levin | WTC I - O. Mustonen | WTC I - S. Richter | WTC I - S. Schepkin
Well Tempered Clavier Book II BWV 870-893: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9
WTC II - D. Barenboim [P. Bright] | WTC II - G. Cooper | WTC II - F. Gulda | WTC II - A. Hewitt | WTC II - R. Kirkpatrick | WTC II - J. Middleton
Well Tempered Clavier Books I&II BWV 846-893: WTC I&II - B.v. Asperen, S. Ross & G. Wilson | WTC I&II - E. Crochet | WTC I&II - O. Dantone | WTC I&II S. Feinberg | WTC II&II - T. Nikolayeva | WTC II&II - L. Thiry [N. Halliday] | WTC I&II - Z. Ruzickova

Edwin Fischer: Short Bioraphy | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Fischer’s WTC I on Naxos

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Last update: ýDecember 1, 2006 ý15:49:53