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
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
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
Raymond J Walker