Asher Fisch Liszt Wagner Paraphrases

07/08/2013
Neville Cohn
Ozartsreview (Australia)

Wagner was a man of many parts: embezzler, anti-Semite, anarchist, serial adulterer and a person of incorrigible vanity. He was also a genius. His cause has not been helped by being Hitler’s favourite composer. The vile leader of the Third Reich also possessed a number of Wagner’s original opera scores which he cherished.

Asher Fisch needs little introduction although his primary claim to fame is as conductor rather than pianist. He has also been at the forefront of events in presiding over the Wagner Ring cycle in Adelaide, the recordings of which deservedly garnered high praise internationally.

In the late nineteenth century, without radio or recordings, the chances of encountering ‘live’ performances of a Wagner opera were very few and limited to those in cities boasting an opera company. But, through the great skill of Liszt (among others), keyboard paraphrases of scenes and/or arias became very popular at recitals and soirees.

In recent months, a tsunami of CDs devoted to Wagner’s operas has almost overwhelmed the music scene. A few are disappointing and will sink without trace, some will keep afloat – and a significant few are riding the crest of the wave.

Fisch’s recording of Liszt/Wagner paraphrases certainly belongs to the last mentioned category. It’s fascinating fare presented with high musical intelligence and beautifully recorded. I especially admired the skill brought to bear on the Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman, the whirring figurations beautifully managed – and the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser is no less meaningful. Its broadly paced measures and, where required, introspective moments as well as climactic episodes are the acme of refined taste. So, too, is Entry of the Guests; I’ve returned to Asher’s account of it a number of times – it’s a consummately fine offering.