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Wilhelm FITZENHAGEN (1848-1890)
Cello Concerto No.2 in A minor Op.4 [19:50]
Elegie Op.21 [4:40]
Capriccio Op.40 [5:05]
Serenade Op.35 [4:39]
Gavotte Op.42 [4:24]
Impromptu Op.43 [4:09]
Ave Maria Op.41 [3:49]
Ave Maria Op.41 – for cello and harmonium [4:27]
Dämonenfantasie Op.34 – after motifs from the opera Damon by Anton Rubinstein [15:41]
Jens Peter Maintz (cello)
Munich Radio Orchestra/Peter Rundel
Paul Rivinius (piano and harmonium)
rec. BR Studio 1 (concerto), September 2003; and December 2005 (chamber works)
Experience Classicsonline

If the name Fitzenhagen is familiar to you then it’s almost certainly in connection with his editing of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. He was born in Seesen in 1848 and studied with Grützmacher, one of the leading players of the time. By his early twenties he was in high demand – Liszt wanted him as solo cellist in Weimer and Nikolai Rubinstein offered him the Cello Professorship at the Moscow Conservatory. He chose Moscow. And here he remained, one of the most influential figures in Russian string teaching and playing until his early death in 1890.

But he also earned a measure of success as a composer. He had four cello concertos to his name as well as the expected morceaux and smaller genre pieces. Oehms has combined these twin facets of his compositional life in the shape of the Second Concerto and a selection of smaller pieces for cello and piano. None is dated in the notes.

The overriding influence on the Concerto is Schumann. In fact it’s strongly modelled on Schumann’s own concerto for the instrument even to the extent of being through-composed. It’s rather more showy however as one would perhaps expect of an executant-composer and more overtly virtuosic and less introspective. The first movement cadenza sounds especially tricky – doubtless Fitzenhagen owed his command to the intense demands made by Grützmacher, notoriously scrupulous when it came to the acquisition of technique - but in the second movement he relaxes nicely. There are, it’s true, elements of salon style here – the supportive harp tissue is rather too domestic for so ostensibly extrovert a work for instance. And the orchestration is sometimes a little too sketchy. Still, the finale is enjoyable, sprightly, sports another tricky cadenza and ends well. The work is as complete an example as I know of Schumann’s pervasive influence on another composer.

The smaller pieces are splendidly written for the instrument, which surely won’t come as a surprise. The Elegie is a warm and effusive opus in the style of Tchaikovsky. The Capriccio’s more propulsive and finger-busting tendencies are relieved by a lyric "B" section – and it also opens like a snippet of The Barber of Seville. The very Slavic Gavotte takes the player up very high and tests his bowing arm into the bargain to a considerable degree. Fitzenhagen must have had excellent intonation. The Impromptu cleaves more to the Schumann-Mendelssohn axis and there are two versions of Ave Maria – one with piano and the other harmonium. The former, predictably, is warm whilst the latter is slightly pious. There is also an extensive Dämonenfantasie, after motifs from the Anton Rubinstein’s opera Dämon. The piano part is demanding and sometimes portentous, the cello writing lyric and equally tough. The piece itself is a kind of dual tribute to Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky – and it includes a variation theme based on the Rocco Variations.

Performances are generous and attractive; Jens Peter Maintz is a fine player and an imaginative one as well. The booklet notes have some excellently reproduced period photographs of the heavily bearded Fitzenhagen and the disc is a worthy and worthwhile salute to his memory.

Jonathan Woolf


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