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Robert FUCHS (1847-1927)
Viola Sonata Op.86 (1899) [19:43]
Six Phantasy Pieces Op.117 (1927) [25:54]
Joseph JOACHIM (1831-1907)
Variations on an Original Theme Op.10 (1854) [21:40]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Romance Op.11 B.39 (1873-79) [12:30]
Patricia McCarty (viola)
Eric Larsen (piano)
rec. June 2007, June 2009 and June 2010, Ed Lee and Jean Campe Memorial Concert Hall, Meadowmount School of Music, Westport, NY
ASHMONT MUSIC 1012 [79:49]

Experience Classicsonline

The central feature of this disc is the music of Robert Fuchs (1847-1927), a composer much admired by Brahms. Yet over the years Fuchs became known more for his students — Mahler, Wolf, Enescu, Sibelius, Zemlinsky and Korngold — than for his own music, other perhaps than the Serenades, which remained popular even when they, like their composer, were seen as monumental anachronisms in post-First World War Vienna. Despite his earlier dislike of Fuchs’ popularity, Schoenberg — now on the ascendant, as Fuchs fell — arranged a relief subsidy for the ailing man.
Indeed the two were parenthetically and temporally linked. In 1899, the year Schoenberg composed Verklärte Nacht, Fuchs wrote his grand, late-Romantic Viola Sonata. Few conjunctions more graphically explore the recessional in Austro-Hungarian composition or more sharply define the ebb and flow of the old and new. Fuchs’s Sonata is a work in the direct lineage of Brahms, a sonata of high-class structural engineering, with room for plenty of interesting thematic material and plentiful, indeed bountiful exchanges between the two instruments. Both outer movements are fluent, and the music-making is always engaging. The finale in particular is a good test of ensemble, and asks for some crisp bowing from the violist — both of which tests are passed here with flying colours. Of genuine individualism, however, there is less sign. Of the kind of stamp that Fuchs left behind in those enjoyable Serenades, again, less sign.
His Six Phantasy Pieces Op.117 take us to his very last year, and in a sense to the end of the Brahms-Fuchs epoch in Austrian music-making. Fuchs’s students had flown or died, and his music had withered and was hardly played. In his last bow he produced six nostalgic character pieces, full of unforced lyricism, delicacy, and expression. They sum up, perhaps better than the Sonata, just what makes his music, whatever the prevailing aesthetic may have been, so attractive.
The two Fuchs works are bisected programmatically by Joseph Joachim’s Variations on an Original Theme Op.10 of 1854. Not only is this appropriate, as Brahms and Joachim were great friends, and Fuchs knew Joachim too, but it expands the reach of the recital. Joachim’s theme is a very beautiful one and the successive variations are variously Schumannesque, light-hearted, dramatic, melancholy and redolent of the Hungarian music that Brahms so loved. Introspection is particularly reserved for the last quarter of the twenty-two minute work. To finish we have Dvorák’s Romance, in this adaptation for viola and piano. The Czech composer was one of those who, like Fuchs, Brahms had promoted to his publisher.
Thus we come, in a sense, full circle. If a by-product of the disc is to encourage us to reflect on lineage and patronage, the core is the fine performances. Viola lovers yet to encounter Fuchs might usefully discover this disc.
Jonathan Woolf

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