Asher Fisch Liszt Wagner Paraphrases

01/09/2013
Steve Moffatt
Limelight (Australia)
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‘When Franz met Richard – Fisch illuminates Liszt’s liberties with his son-in-law’s operas’

EDITOR’S CHOICE

Israeli conductor Asher Fisch is no stranger to our shores, being particularly associated with the West Australian and Adelaide symphony orchestras. A generous helping of his landmark 2004 recording of Richard Wagner’s Ring in Adelaide was recently re-released by Melba Recordings, and Daniel Barenboim’s former conducting protégé features in a new release from that prestige label, albeit as a pianist, performing some of Franz Liszt’s paraphrases from five of Wagner’s operas. As a bonus on this excellent and fascinating disc, Fisch performs three rare, short piano pieces Wagner wrote as thank yous to friends and patrons.

Liszt started championing his future son-in-law in Weimar in the 1840s where he conducted Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. He wrote 14 paraphrases of Wagner excerpts, with varying degrees of fidelity, over the years before the pair famously fell out over Wagner’s affair and subsequent marriage to Liszt’s already-married daughter Cosima.

One can only guess what Wagner must have thought of the liberties “my holy Franz” took with his music in these concert pieces – though the seven featured here are relatively reverential compared with what Liszt did to Verdi on occasions! However, we do know that the younger composer was grateful for the support. When Liszt wrote to him to say that he had paraphrased not only the Overture to Tannhäuser but also the famous Abendstern scene (both beautifully rendered here by Fisch), Wagner replied: “I had wondered for a number of years – yes, even as soon as I had composed the Overture – if I would possibly ever hear it played by you. Is it really possible? For you everything is possible!”

Although our ears are more accustomed to hearing this music performed by large orchestras, there is much insight to be gained from this album both into the original works and Liszt’s brilliant handling of them. Perhaps the most successful and satisfying paraphrase is the Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman, which seems almost to have been written for the Hungarian virtuoso.

Also worthy of special mention is the superb adaptation of the Liebestod (a title coined by Liszt, incidentally) from Tristan and Isolde where only one note of the original is changed.

Fisch’s excellent liner notes inform the works and provide some interesting technical and personal insights. Read his reference on the difficulties of conducting the Grand March scene from Tannhäuser, for instance. Recorded in Suffolk, England, in 2011, the production values are extremely high and Fisch makes the Steinway sing superbly.