Robert FUCHS (1847-1927)
Serenade No 3 in E minor, Op 21 [22:08]
Serenade No 4 in G minor, Op 51 [25:30]
Serenade No 5 in D, Op 53 [21:07]
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Christian Ludwig
rec. 5-6 March 2009 (No 3), 10-12 January 2010 (No 5), 6-8 May 2010 (No 4)
NAXOS 8.572607 [68:45]
Well, this is a let-down. I fell head-over-heels for Robert Fuchs’ first two string serenades (see review), but these later three are - sorry! - kind of boring. The first time I listened to the disc, I did so in one sitting, holding out hope for the finale of the last serenade, which is a rousing parody of Johann Strauss. It was hard to be patient, because the music here is all derivative and a lot of it just drags on and on. Robert Fuchs was a very important figure in music history, his place in which is very well-described in the booklet essay, but these last three serenades aim to charm and only sometimes do.
The Serenade No 3 opens with a slow movement, a trick which can be done well (see Suk’s incredible serenade) but isn’t here, since the music (andante sostenuto) provides no immediate interest. Then we have to plod through a six-minute minuet and an allegretto before arriving at the first bit of the CD with any harmonic or dynamic contrast, a Hungarian-style finale.
The Fourth and Fifth serenades date from much later in Fuchs’ career, when he had evidently cast aside any last vestiges of youthful freshness and enthusiasm to write dour, solid Germanic stuff. No 4 very elegantly blends the sounds of French horns into the ensemble, and the opening andante sostenuto (again!) manages a very late-Brahmsian kind of autumnal beauty. But when Fuchs immediately doubles back to blandly cheery dances afterward, the result is patently artificial.
Compared to the sweet innocence of the first two serenades, one gets the sense of a composer too concentrated on having fun properly to really allow himself to have fun. Even the Johann Strauss parody (more of a loving homage, really) which rounds out No 5 is a little too earnest and hardworking. What made the first two serenades so much fun is that they seemed not to be trying: they just danced, these wispy, sweet little trifles. The stuff on the present CD, not so much. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra plays with the same excellent intonation they displayed last time, and they’re extremely well recorded. The blame falls on Robert Fuchs.
After the joy of Fuchs’ first two serenades, the fact that these three are so boring is a bit of a surprise.