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Robert FUCHS (1846-1927)
Piano Concerto in B flat minor, Op. 27 (1879/80) [40:37]
Serenade No. 5 in D major, Op. 53 (1895) [22:04]
Franz Vorraber, piano
Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Alun Francis
Recorded Villa Louvigny, Luxembourg, June 2003
CPO 999 893-2 [62:56]

Concerto Comparison: Roscoe/Brabbins/Hyperion

Robert Fuchs was an avid follower and friend of Johannes Brahms who mentored his younger colleague and enthusiastically promoted his music. By having a treasured position in the 'Brahms Circle', Fuchs attained a huge reputation as a romantic-era composer. However, all things must end, and the death of Brahms ushered in the demise of Fuchs' popularity. Not helping the situation was the fact that Fuchs did not alter his compositional style as time progressed and specifically did not adapt to the innovations made by Gustav Mahler. Essentially, all of Fuchs' music was melodic and well constructed, although thoroughly derivative.

Thanks to the digital era, there has been a revival of interest in Fuchs' music with discs of his chamber and orchestral music being mined along the way. The new CPO recording of the Piano Concerto is the second on disc, preceded by Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Martin Roscoe on piano. The Serenade No. 5 has seen a few recordings over the years although my catalog currently only shows an EBS recording on the market.

The Fuchs Piano Concerto is a stunning achievement displaying exemplary musical gifts, emotional breadth and lyricism. Right from its fiery opening, it is clear that Fuchs delves intensely into the dark and heroic side of the human condition. The 1st Movement is marked "Allegro maestoso ed energico", and that is exactly what we get. When the piano enters, Fuchs reveals an exceptional ability to blend orchestra with keyboard; further, the solo part has a host of delicious passages that sparkle enticingly. Although the movement lasts over seventeen minutes, there is never a dull moment as strength and beauty are exhibited in unison and in contrast. The architecture is conventional and in the best tradition of the Romantic era. Anyone who loves the Brahms Piano Concertos would surely love this 1st Movement with its alternating duplets and triplets from the strings.

The 2nd Movement "Andante sostenuto" is in the key of D flat major and constitutes a set of variations. The music is highly lyrical with soaring strings, and the subsequent introduction of the piano adds a lovely and delicate touch. I would have liked the variations to be more distinct from one another, but the gorgeous lines make the movement quite memorable. The final movement is a brilliant rondo with an heroic primary theme that pervades the entire movement.

The Hyperion recording of the Piano Concerto is quicker and more lithe than the CPO which tends to have a rather serious and heavy nature. However, the important thing is that both performances excellently capture all the emotional content and lyricism of the work. Franz Vorraber does not possess the silky suppleness of Martin Roscoe, but his craggy pianism is certainly a viable alternative just as it is in his cycle for Thorofon of the Schumann piano works.

Moving on to the Serenade No. 5, it was composed to honor the 50th anniversary of the musical career of Johann Strauss. Fuchs conducted the premiere in Vienna to a very appreciative audience. Unlike the earlier Fuchs Serenades that use strings only, the 5th includes wind instrumentation. This work is much lighter in mood than the Piano Concerto, but contains many fine melodies and tight construction.

The Serenade's 1st Movement is a soaring "Adagio con espressione" with appealing motifs that are mildly poignant. Three dance movements follow: the first possesses elegance and charm, the second is a sprightly waltz while the third uses motifs from the Fledermaus overture as its foundation. Overall, the Serenade No. 5 is an alluring confection sure to bring a smile to listeners not looking for profound utterances. Alun Francis and the Luxembourg Orchestra do a fine job of conveying the delightful dance elements of the Serenade and also have an unerring sense of the music's flow.

CPO gives the production an excellent soundstage with ample depth and definition. The rather heavy tone of the recording comes from the performances, and I would rate the sound equal to the Hyperion.

Concerning recommendations, I feel that the Piano Concerto is an essential work for lovers of romantic music. Both the CPO and Hyperion versions 'deliver the goods' and can be recommended. Actually, the couplings could well be the decisive factor as to which recording to acquire. The Hyperion coupling is the Piano Concerto of Friedrich Kiel. This is a fine work that occupies the same level of inspiration as the Fuchs Serenade No. 5. Frankly, the best work on both discs is the Piano Concerto, and you can't go wrong with either of the two recordings.

I must admit to not having had a great deal of admiration for the music of Fuchs until I discovered his Piano Concerto which reveals a much wider range of emotional content that most of his other compositions. For those wanting a taste of his best music, both the Hyperion and CPO discs are strongly recommended.

Don Satz

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