Jeanne Kierman and Norman Fischer on the cover of their new Brahms album (from Amazon.com Web page)
Back when I was writing for Examiner.com, in April of 2014, one of my more enjoyable experiences was writing about an album of the “complete++” music for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by the Fischer Duo of cellist Norman Fischer and his wife, pianist Jeanne Kierman. The “++” had to do with the fact that, over the course of four CDs, the duo covered not only the “official” music for “pianoforte and violoncello” (as Beethoven’s title pages would have put it) but also arrangements for that coupling of instruments for both the Opus 3 string trio in E-flat major and the Opus 17 horn sonata in F major. There was also a “bonus” CD that included an early draft of the opening movement on the Opus 69 sonata in A major and Carl Czerny’s arrangement for cello and piano of the Opus 47 (“Kreutzer”) violin sonata in A major.
This Friday Centaur will release another album featuring the Fischer Duo. This one is only a single CD, and it consists entirely of music by Johannes Brahms. That accounts for the two sonatas for cello and piano, Opus 38 in E minor and Opus 99 in F major. However, there is again a “bonus” offering, in the form of Opus 91, the two “alto songs” originally composed for alto voice, viola, and piano. These are played basically as Brahms had written them but with Fischer’s cello substituting for the viola part. This is again a “family affair,” since the vocalist is the Fischers’ daughter Abigail. As usual, Amazon.com has a Web page processing pre-orders for those who cannot wait until the end of this week.
Readers that have been following my work regularly probably know that I cannot get enough of good cello performances. In this respect Fischer is somewhat special for me, since I have had the pleasure of following some of his Master Class work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. (Fischer is Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Cello and Director of Chamber Music at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston. Kierman is also on the faculty as an Artist Teacher.) It was through his coaching insights that I was drawn to his Beethoven album, and my pleasure with that extended package drew me to the new Brahms album.
Consistent with what I observed in his Master Class, Fischer’s approach to Brahms is concerned primarily with giving a clear and expressive account of what the composer tried to capture in his marks on paper. Brahms was never particularly interested in show-off virtuosity; and Fischer does not try to pile on fireworks where they are neither necessary nor desirable. These are readings in which one readily appreciates what Brahms was trying to say and why it was worth his time to say it and our time to listen. The same can be said of the Opus 91 songs, truly modest in scope but nevertheless compelling for the intimacy that is captured by those brief gestures.
This is an album likely to be consulted consistently when I wish to think more about the role of the cello in performing the music of Brahms.