Legendary Pianist Norma Fisher to Release First Album
From her triumph in the 1963 Harriet Cohen International Music Awards, when she jointly won first prize alongside Vladimir Ashkenazy, it seemed clear that the English pianist Norma Fisher would have a long career at the highest level. And performances at the highest level did indeed follow, with a Proms debut that same year and many and regular appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, CBSO and the like. She quickly became beloved of audiences, with piano fans hailing her as one of the finest pianists the country had ever produced. Yet to the surprise of many, in the late 1990's and at the height of her art, she abruptly ceased playing. A second career blossomed as she became one of the most sought-after and admired piano teachers. Her many fans will be thrilled therefore by news of the new archive recording by Sonetto Classics - incredibly, her first-ever commercial release - "Norma Fisher At The BBC, Vol. 1".And even as she welcomes this release, Norma Fisher reveals the reason she had to cease playing. "I developed a focal dystonia," she says, "a highly-debilitating neurological condition that affected my right hand, causing the muscles to seize up without warning. Public performances became unbearably nerve-wracking, knowing that at any moment my hand could just stop working. It never actually happened mid-way through a concert, but I didn't want to inflict that on myself or an audience and it seemed only a matter of time before it could actually do so." So she reinvented herself, the great pianist becoming a great teacher, now a professor of piano at the Royal College of Music in London, a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and Artistic Director of London Master Classes. The Sonetto Classics release, the first in a projected series, features some of her very finest broadcast performances from the archives of the BBC - including, from 1972, Brahms's Variations on an Original Theme and Variations on a Hungarian Song (Opus 21, Nos. 1 and 2); from 1979, Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 1 and Scriabin's Etudes Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 8(Opus 42). The recordings were lovingly remastered by Sonetto Classics's producer and CEO Tomoyuki Sawado, and engineer Andrew J.Holdsworth. "I am beyond thrilled with the selection," says Fisher, " Brahms was always my first love; the size and depth of sound demanded totally suited my physical approach, while his emotional demands came naturally to me. I played the Brahms 2nd and 3rd sonatas throughout my career, as well as the Brahms-Handel and Schumann Variations - but I 'lost my heart' to these Variations Op 21 and am so thrilled to have these recordings to treasure! The 2nd Concerto was one of the last things I played in public, at the Barbican. "And these Scriabin works I learnt at the BBC's request, never having played him before, when I was invited to contribute, in 1972, to their series marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. I discovered a natural and glorious affinity with Scriabin's spirit and sound-world!" The leading piano music authority Bryce Morrison has contributed sleeve-notes and remembers Fisher's performances well. "I...recall a Queen Elizabeth Hall recital given in the 1980s including Scriabin's First Sonata," he writes, "The performance of this daunting early masterpiece was mesmerizing in its magisterial command, its empathy for Scriabin's early high-blown rhetoric; a cry against fate, against God. But it was in the final Funebre that memory remains indelible. This all-Russian funeral with its mysterious niente, a glimpse into nothing, was given with such conviction that you saw, as it were, a princely funeral, the palanquin and horses heads nodding with black ostrich plumes, the pall bearers swarthily muffled to their tearless eyes." And Sonetto Classics already have their eyes on further volumes devoted to Fisher's art - Tomoyuki Sawado has issued a plea for anyone to come forward who has a copy of Fisher's 'lost' 1972 recording of Scriabin's Fifth Piano Sonata (which was broadcast only once by the BBC) - so that the interpretations of one of the most brilliant pianists of her generation will be easily accessible, to enjoy, to study, to wonder at. "Norma Fisher At The BBC, Vol. 1" is released on 11th May. Listen to a brief extract of Norma Fisher playing Scriabin here.