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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suite No. 1 in G BWV 1007 arr. Fuchs [16.52]
Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008 arr. Fuchs [19.09]
Cello Suite No. 3 in C BWV 1009 arr. Fuchs [18.51]
Cello Suite No. 4 in E flat BWV 1010 arr. Fuchs [20.31]
Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor BWV 1011 arr. Fuchs [21.03]
Cello Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012 arr. Fuchs [22.19]
Lillian Fuchs (viola)
Recorded c.1951-55
DOREMI DHR 7801/02 [54.57 + 65.47]

Doremi will make a lot of viola fans happy with this release. There’s been an amount of agitation for the re-release of these 1950s Deccas for some considerable time but my understanding is that legal considerations have thwarted previous attempts. That Doremi has now undertaken to re-issue these pioneering recordings, unavailable for fifty years, is a matter for admiration.

Lilian Fuchs (1903-1991) never published her own edition of the Bach Suites in their viola transcription, though she was pressed to often enough. Like her almost exact contemporary William Primrose she began as a violinist but unlike him she essayed these suites for much of her professional career. It’s said that Primrose became partially reconciled to them through hearing Fuchs’s performances. Certainly the Scotsman was persuaded by David Dalton to record the first five suites late in his life, though at a time when he was ailing, but Primrose never changed his view of the sixth which he considered un-cellistic let alone un-violistic and adamantly refused to perform it - the performances were first issued on Biddulph.

Fuchs had no such reservations. She takes a profoundly different view to that of Primrose and if we put to one side the intonational and other problems that afflicted him we can still discern the differences in aesthetics and tonal projection behind their performances. Primrose took a much tauter, tonally tensile view – more Feuermann-like cellistically – whilst Fuchs cleaves more to the Casals ideals of sonority and depth. They make for complementary approaches, separated though they were by decades.

Fuchs’ playing is tonally warm, fully equalized across the scale, devoid of obtrusive portamenti and intensely lyrical and expressive. Her Minuets are buoyant (second minuet of the Suite in G for example) and though she is generally more deliberate than Primrose’s superfine articulation there are instances where she feels the music coursing just as quickly, if not more so as one can hear in the Courante of the D minor. Her passagework in the Prelude of the C major is exceptional – commanding, sensitive use of diminuendi and shading and a good range of tonal colours. The same suite’s Courante is crisp and the Bourrees once more show her fine sense of rhythmic tension.

Not everything quite works though that may be the fault of the recording. The Prelude of the E flat major sounds harsh and there are one or two LP bumps, probably not pressing faults but vinyl ticks, in the Sarabande. The opening of the C minor is very slow – Primrose, right or wrong, was decidedly against the kind of expressive lingering that she indulges here insisting the viola seeks its own character independent of a cellistic profile. And in the ultra-problematic D major (No.6) there are some registration issues that not even Fuchs can resolve. The Prelude sounds very strenuous and the Gavottes feel a shade uncertain.

Otherwise I have nothing but admiration for this release, capturing a pioneering set of recordings by a superb violist made at the height of her powers. And the even better news is that this is just volume one in the Doremi Fuchs Legacy.

Jonathan Woolf



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