‘The most gifted Hungarian pianist of the 20th century’

‘The most gifted Hungarian pianist of the 20th century’


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2015

The headline quote belongs to Georg Solti.

Martha Argerich calls her ‘the female pianist I like the best’.

Sviatoslav Richter recognised her as ‘a great artist imbued with a spirit of greatness and genuine profundity.’

annie fischer

It is 20 years to the day since the death of Annie Fischer.


  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    A great pianist, but “most gifted”? That wouldn’t be fair to many other, equally superb Hungarian pianists, such as Geza Anda, Lili Kraus, Louis Kentner, Georges Cziffra, etc.
    See this interesting playLiszt:

    • JanHus says:

      Pointless to show off such a list. Geza Anda, Lili Kraus, Louis Kentner, Georges Cziffra are all incredible artists. But Annie Fischer is simply the most gifted among them all, period

      • Erwin Poelstra says:

        I have never read a more pointless reply to one of my comments. Please explain to us WHY you think she is more gifted than all the other great ones.

        • Xavier says:

          He probably means that because she is a woman… excessive gallantery perhaps… anyway there is no gallantery on my part if I Say that she was a great artist in the same respect as Anda, Cziffra etcc

    • Niles says:

      It was a quote of someone’s opinion. You have needlessly replied to a dead person.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    I know that Solti is dead, dear Niles. I simply disagree with him (posthumously) and chose to express that, whether you like it or not.

  • Michael Moran says:

    I could not agree more with Martha Agerich.

    A glowing tone, refined sensibility, virtuosity at the service of the composer but never dull.

    An illuminating poem written by Leschetizky enshrined his principles and describes her playing succinctly.

    No life without art
    No art without life

    One does not win people’s hearts
    Only with runs of scales and thirds
    But rather with a noble singing style
    Clear and powerful, gentle and soft

    Not with scales and thirds
    Does one win people’s hearts
    But rather with a beautiful song
    Profundity and noble tone

    Her fine cantabile, a true Fingerfertigkeit (finger dexterity) of velvet fullness, whilst retaining delicacy, velocity and evenness of touch. She projected the meaning of music through poetry and sensibility, rare enough today.

    I treasure above many in my collection her 1959 vinyl recording for Columbia of Mozart’s piano concertos in C major K. 467 and E flat K. 482 – sublime.

  • Stephen says:

    One can hardly compare Annie Fischer with Cziffra since they didn’t have the same repertoire and he never played works calling for great depth of feeling. I don’t think Cziffra ever achieved his full potential due to a life beset by great hardship and tragedy.

    • Erwin Poelstra says:

      “…he never played works calling for great depth of feeling”. Well, that is simply not true I think. He played Cesar Franck’s Variations Symphoniques and Chopin’s Barcarolle, for example, quite magnificently.
      My whole point is: even if it comes from a famous (dead) conductor, these kind of statements like this headline are maybe entertaining but also utterly meaningless and subjective. Steinway or Fazioli, which instrument is more beautiful? Berlin Phil or VPO, what orchestra is greater? Vermeer or Rembrandt, who was more gifted?
      There were so many sublime Hungarian pianists. Annie Fischer was certainly great, but she was one of those artists who didn’t feel at home in the studio; as a result, not all her recordings are successful. Unfortunately, I never heard her live.

      • Stephen says:

        Cziffra didn’t play late Beethoven (or much earlier Beethoven, come to that); he didn’t play much Mozart or Brahms or the Schubert sonatas. Even in Liszt, if you compare his “Etudes Transcendantes” with, say, Arrau, you can’t fail to notice how much more the latter finds in the music. As for “Années de Pèlerinage”, Cziffra’s version is a complete, utterly shallow travesty, so bad I can’t listen to more than five minutes of it.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Above a certain level of excellence, comparisons loose their meaning.

      • Erwin Poelstra says:

        As for repertoire, they both played a lot of Liszt.

        • Stephen says:

          Well, try their respective recordings of the Liszt B minor Sonata and let us know your feelings.

          • Erwin Poelstra says:

            Actually, Cziffra played Bach-Busoni (stunning Prelude & Fugue in D major), Schumann’s “Carnaval”, Schubert Impromptus, Beethoven’s “Waldstein”, Hungarian Dances of Brahms (in his own arrangement), etc., all available on CD.
            It would be a big mistake to see Cziffra only as a shallow super-virtuoso, there are many recordings that show that he was a sensitive and tasteful musician (Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Chopin Waltzes come to my mind, too).
            And, even if he had never played or recorded (some of) the German repertoire, would that make him a lesser musician or less interesting? I don’t think so. In his prime Cziffra was simply unbelievable, you just have to listen to him playing Liszt’s “La Leggierezza”, Mephisto Waltz no. 1, Hungarian Rhapsodies, Tarantella etc.
            As for the Liszt Sonata, both Cziffra’s and Fischer’s recording are not my favourite for several reasons.

        • Stephen says:

          I have all these Cziffra recordings and they are magnificent (with the exception of the Beethoven) and by no means shallow. The Grieg is as good as any I have heard but Grieg is not Brahms….On the other hand, Cziffra’s recording of the Paganini Variations is not very successful so perhaps he did as well to avoid him. Still, it’s a pity he left no Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms concertos.

  • Novagerio says:

    Furtwängler called Géza Anda “the Troubadour of the piano”. Personally, I believe more in Furtwängler than in Solti – and I do like Annie Fischer.

  • KeyboardCity says:

    For depth of musical insight, Annie Fisher can be placed at the front of the line. She spun phrases into gold, with a beautiful sound that filled the entire hall at any dynamic level. However, her concerts sometimes suffered from a spray of clinkers, as she wasn’t known for practicing long hours. Certainly Lili Kraus was also a most penetrating musician, but she was technically the most limited of the Hungarian pianists mentioned here – so she wisely planned her repertoire to suit her limitations. She wasn’t the barn-storming virtuoso such as Cziffra or Kentner, but she was certainly a poet.

    • Erwin Poelstra says:

      Lili Kraus, technically limited? Maybe you should listen to her early Parlophone recordings, notably Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations…stunning.
      Also, it depends how you define “technique”. Personally I think that when you can play Mozart the way Kraus did, you have a LOT of it.
      I agree with you about Fischer’s “clinkers”, but just like in Alfred Cortot’s case, they never seem to detract from the powerful musical message.

  • PAM says:

    She was an absolute force, and a superb pianist. I heard her at Carnegie Hall many, many years ago. Thank you for remembering her today.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Gifted, schmifted: if you can’t hear what Annie Fischer was up to, what she was all about, what musical values she espoused, it’s not a crime. You’re not morally impaired. But you ARE missing a great deal. Of course there are still people who will not take Schnabel or Cortot seriously because their respective techniques, especially in the recording studio, could be wildly inconsistent, and those people, too, are missing so much of what serious interpretive art is all about.

  • Novagerio says:

    Furtwängler called Gèza Anda the Troubadour of the piano. I personally believe more in Furtwängler than in Solti. And I do like Annie Fischer.

    • Stephen says:

      Soliti was undoubtedly a better pianist than Furtwangler and he played the piano with Fischer in their student days then, later, with Anda. There is a recording of them playing Bartok’s “Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion”.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Klemperer thought very highly of Annie Fisher and made several recordings with her. Although she was Romanian, for some reason I always think of Clara Haskil when I think of Annie Fisher.

  • Marcelo Mendes says:

    Saw Argerich perform this same concerto with Abbado two years ago at Pleyel, Paris. An experience I’ll never forget.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Solti was correct, but I’m sure he did not mean “gifted” in the way most people tend to read it (as a natural aptitude or facility). Richter put it more precisely. Nobody seems to have noticed what he said. Annie Fischer was a giant who can be mentioned in the same sentence with Schnabel and Cortot and was much admired by another giant, Otto Klemperer.

  • Stweart says:

    Here go the league table brigade again.
    Just accept that they were/are all great pianists and stop trying to show off !

    • Stephen says:

      I don’t think one should abuse the use of the word “great” – there are different degrees of greatness, surely? Of course, there is a place for those with a dazzling technique but works like Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, even when played by Cziffra, I can only take in small doses. Pianists with unreliable technique like Cortot have my preference for his inner feeling and, indeed, excitement. And the greatest pianists – people like Arrau, Richter, Gilels – combined depth with superb technique.

  • Marquiz says:

    Clara Haskil , Livia Rev, Zoltan Kocsis, Ivan Moravec, Franz Liszt

  • John H says:

    Annie Fischer (via recordings and YouTube) for me sits at the summit of postwar pianists along with Richter, Michelangeli, Serkin. Her Mozart concerti (20-24) spoke an unfamiliar language (“cannons buried in flowers”) that made me forget all others, irrational as that may seem.