> FASY Columbus [RW]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Albert Rudolph FÄSY (1837-1891)
Götz von Berlichingen Prelude
Der Triumph der Liebe Prelude
Sempach Tone poem
Columbus Symphonic Suite
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
Rec 2001 - location?
MARCO POLO 8.225134 [57.37]

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Albert Rudolph Fãsy is Swiss composer of whom little is heard nowadays. His music is generally robust yet he is capable of introducing melodic passages in some of his works.

He was born in Zurich in 1837, the son of a department store owner and city councillor. He had his first musical training with Franz Abt and Alexander Müller, the latter a friend of Richard Wagner. In 1856 he was admitted to the Leipzig Conservatory and three years later moved to Vienna.

The four works recorded here were almost certainly written between 1870 and 1890. It seems likely that Fäsy will have known Wagner, personally, whilst living in Switzerland and that Sehnsucht, a setting by Fäsy of a poem by Schiller, for baritone and piano, may have been submitted to Wagner for criticism. Sehnsucht was printed, but all other works by Fäsy remain in manuscript form.

An Elegie for voice and piano, on a text by Friedrich von Matthisson, seems to have been orchestrated later, but is now apparently lost. Two more vocal works with piano, also on texts by Matthisson, three compositions for piano solo and the four orchestral pieces of this disc constitute the surviving body of Albert Fäsy's compositions, all preserved today in the Zurich Zentralbibliothek. In the same collection are also found Fäsy's detailed study of Beethoven's Symphonies and an incomplete, comprehensive monograph on the Zurich musician, publisher, writer and politician Hans Georg Nägeli (1773-1836), showing that Fäsy was a man of high culture, perhaps with Nägeli as his spiritual example. In a list of Fäsy's private music library, published for sale after his death, a considerable and varied quantity of orchestral scores, vocal scores and albums for piano are mentioned. Specialist books on music, among which are works by and on Berlioz, Weber, Schumann, Liszt and Wagner, give us a deeper insight into Fäsy's musical interests and taste.

Listening to the disc will reveal that Fäsy was not a master of melodic invention, but at times he demonstrates some skill in instrumentation, harmony and counterpoint, and a creator of dramatic atmosphere. He has a tendency of using a ‘bolt-on’ approach when providing a transition from one idea to another and in this respect lacks the sophistication of the classical masters of the age. In orchestration he shows a preference for well-constructed and varied tutti sections, rather than harmonisations of solo melodies using a conventional accompaniment. The notes tell us, respectfully that when writing for single instruments, whether separately or within the same group, is expertly carried out, in perfect balance with the whole ensemble, producing either a full orchestral sound in which woodwinds and brass predominate, or suggesting an almost indefinable, bluffed atmosphere of mystery or tension through effective string figuration.

This may be true to some extent, but the sense of flow is lacking at times.

Fäsy's orchestral pieces may be imagined as conceived to accompany solemnly staged dramatic or edifying tableaux vivants. The fact that the melodic construction of these monumental tone-poems is rather simple may justify the intention to give them a monolithic aspect.

Fäsy's short leitmotifs, used as musical cells, not as melodies, build up the whole musical material of a piece: variations or, rather, transformations occur to constitute the theme or the accompanying musical material of a following section with little development. These simple motifs become occasionally secondary and/or contrasting themes through structural and harmonic change, including the then relatively new technique of inversion. Fäsy creates a straightforward musical language, almost without development technique, giving his musical pieces a somehow terse unity. Could this be anticipating the minimalism of Philip Glass? If Bruckner's music is described as naïve by its avant-garde simplicity and appeal, Fäsy's music shows similar aspects. Without the music of Wagner and Liszt, Fäsy's cannot he imagined, but perhaps his intention was likely to simply to do something different, and to appeal to a larger, less elite audience than that of Bayreuth. The condition of Fäsy's manuscripts makes us guess that these works were never performed, but if they had the name of Fäsy will have been better known.

The Götz von Berlichingen prelude is a powerful C Major march, which involves interesting woodwind, and brass material but is loose in its construction. Similar and in the same key as Die Meistersinger, Fãsy’s harmonisation and orchestration is more complicated than Wagner’s: he jumps wildly from one idea to another.

Der Triumph der Liebe is based on Schiller’s hymn-poem where in the first part a tempestuous turmoil of nature ruled by mythological beings is described. There is a menacing gait and gothic feel to the opening, which characterises sinister foreboding, which could have come out of the pages of Rheingold. In the second part human beings are inspired by the loveliness of nature to enjoy love and become godlike with bright march-like chords over rippling strings. This, in parts, impressive tone poem for large orchestra is handled well by Adriano.

Sempach is based on a battle where the Swiss defeated the Hapsburgs. The tone poem describes the preparation for war, the departure of troops with consecration of the banners by priests, then the oath and prayer and finally the marching off. It is a dark work with chromatic yearnings, solemn bell toll, and prolonged and unproductive modulations, then marching timpani and fanfare leading to a crescendo and patriotic conclusion. The bells at the end are sadly out of tune with the orchestra.

The most prestigious of Fäsy’s works is Columbus, an elaborate symphonic poem, but why of all heroes, Columbus, when Switzerland is surrounded by land, and not water? Divided into six sections that run into each other it tells of chapters in an invented episode in Columbus's life:

The opening Hail thee, Columbus starts with majestic chords, then dissonance, and opens out into a charming oboe-led lyrical theme which is soon interrupted by a crude and robust naval Sailor's tune, but its development is poor and somewhat circus-like. (The brass section has some trouble here.) This runs into Columbus at the Helm where we pick up the opening themes again. Here we have a good picture of a clear horizon with calm sea lapping at the boat. (Try tk 6 as the construction of this movement is much superior to the former and shows Fäsy's skills. Bernstein's West Side Story comes to mind.) The tuneless bells do little to complement the orchestral flow of thematic material. The Vision is a represented by lightly scored variations on the earlier material where a harp is introduced for the first time. Here the peaceful elegance of passages from Parsifal can be clearly felt. The Revolt (mutiny?) with staccato bassoon is rather comic-like which I'm sure is not intended. A fugue-like return to the opening theme of the first section works reasonably well but there is no fearful fight of any dramatic proportions to listen to. The Decision is a section that closes the piece with a bright introduction before our majestic Columbus theme, carried by the horns and other brass, returns. The finale revisits the brighter themes of the piece.

The recording is made in a hall with less than ideal acoustics with the orchestra distantly placed. The flatness of sound is disappointing. Whether or not it is a mar of acoustics or poor playing I cannot decide, but a blurring of the notes from the first strings is particularly noticed at one point and on other occasions the Moscow orchestra lacks tight focus. Adriano conducts Der Triumph skilfully and reads with a good pace. Adriano provides excellent notes of good length. He has worked for Marco Polo/Naxos before and is an expert on Respighi.

Raymond J Walker

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