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.