On May 23, 1971, the Fischer Duo performed together for the first time, and now more than 50 years later (with concerts on five continents and dozens of recordings) we celebrate our relationship with a great body of repertoire from Beethoven to tomorrow. Indeed, championing new scores has always been an integral part of the Duo’s mission, through recording and commissioning. In 2020 when it was time to celebrate the anniversary, the concert halls were shuttered, and our audiences were at home on screen. There was also great pain in losses of loved ones, and isolation from our friends and family. This recording is a declaration of love and resilience, with three commissioned works for the Duo and three recent works by new friends and supreme artists.
In March 2020, William Bolcom attended one of our concerts. Afterwards in conversation, we recalled our first meeting in 1972 and the many shared performances and recordings. At our invitation, he was delighted in the idea of writing a new work for us. By Thanksgiving, the Second Cello Sonata was finished and the Duo went to work. The first movement, “Introduction and Allegro” can stand on its own, as Bill says, and deals with the powerful emotional issues of 2020, both political and spiritual. A short serene slow movement in C# Major precedes a diabolical Scherzo non giocoso where seemingly all hell breaks loose. Not wanting to leave us all in a state of despair, Bill provided a set of waltz variations on a tune that he wrote in 1949 for an older cellist he had a crush on growing up in Seattle. Themes from earlier in the sonata come back, and at the end it leaves us with a wink and a smile.
A Song for Silenced Voices: Recitative for Cello and Piano is, as the title suggests, a powerfully lyrical, passionate work that deals with the pain and loss of those we love. Although originally written in 1997 while working on his Anne Frank project in memory of those lost in the Holocaust, we are surrounded by similar feelings of senseless loss with pandemic deaths. Michael Cohen is a master at writing for the voice, and this work is an inspired testament to his vision.
Meeting Robert Sirota freshman year at Oberlin College is by now, a famous family story. I commissioned a sonata from Bob at adjacent shaving sinks one morning in freshman year when I found out he was a composer. When I kept hounding him (so that he knew I was serious), he wrote a work that I performed frequently in our college years. In the intervening years Sirota wrote me five more works for cello as our lives proceeded, sharing the joys of our children’s births and mourning our parents and family. This close friendship extended to our four children who all chose careers as musicians. Every one of us has joyously performed Sirota and, also together in multigenerational chamber music. Family Portraits is a loving celebration of the depth of these relationships with four movements capturing each member of our family. Norman (“Energetic”) and Jeanne (“Expressive”) are obviously the parents. Violinist and older daughter Becca (“Mysterious, elegant”) is followed by our singer Abby (“Luminous”).
In 2011 Hilary Tann was invited to compose a memorial work for her teacher Milton Babbitt for viola and piano. She chose two points of inspiration, the first few notes of Babbitt’s 1950 Composition for Viola and Piano and the poem The Sea and the Skylark by Gerard Manley Hopkins. On Ear and Ear so vividly captures the motion of both waves and flight in a hypnotic vision of the natural world. In 2020 Tann graciously made a version for cello and piano for us, and we have embraced it fully, not only for the way in which she captures the instruments and sounds but also the way it feels when we play it drawing us into the center of her universe.
Even though composer Theo Chandler is the youngest composer on our album, he is no stranger to broad recognition of his work with prizes and grants galore. After hearing his works at Tanglewood and Rice University, we invited him to write a work for our 50th. In considering the work Theo wanted to capture opposite characters that would transform in a single movement and Studies in Change is the result. The titles of each piece clearly describe the character transformations, “From Dark to Light Four Times,” “From Entropy to Dance and Back Again,” and “From Machine to Song.” In the last movement, one can hear how the piano is prepared with poster tack on two bass strings and two high treble strings to create more percussive timbres to marvelous affect. What one isn’t prepared for is the return of the first movement theme and the inspired apotheosis at the end.
— Norman Fischer