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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat Major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra KV364 (1779) [31:21]
Duo in B flat major, K424 (1783) [17:29]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Three Madrigals (1948) [15:24]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Concerto accademico (1924-25) [15:34]
Joseph Fuchs (violin): Lillian Fuchs (viola)
The Zimbler Sinfonietta/The Zimbler String Sinfonietta (VW)
rec. 1950-52

American violinist Joseph Fuchs and his sister Lillian, the violist, are the focal point of this release from Forgotten Records. They conjoin in Mozart and Martinů, whilst it’s Joseph alone who takes centre-stage in Vaughan Williams’ Concerto. A gratifying amount of their recordings are being reissued on silver disc, and I’ve encountered and reviewed things such as Joseph’s complete Beethoven Sonata cycle, on Naxos, and Lillian’s pioneering set of the Bach Suites arranged for viola, on Doremi.

Their Mozart Sinfonia Concertante recording was quite well-known in its day. They often performed it together and put it on record in December 1951 with the Zimbler Sinfonietta. A conductor may have lightened the somewhat militant lower string lines and the brusque accenting in the opening orchestral introduction, and also attended to the question of tempo – there’s a slight sense of speeding up from a relatively slow initial tempo. However, the soloists acquit themselves well, Joseph varying the speed of his vibrato – which was naturally fast – to accommodate the somewhat slower viola of his sister. The approach is refined but not especially expressive even in the slow movement and – fine player though he was – Joseph’s tonal variety there isn’t optimum. Occasionally there’s a degree of phrasal pedantry in the finale, mixed with some slightly over-suave pointing, whilst the ending is somewhat creaky. This recording has garnered a good reputation over the years though only amongst those interested in historic recordings, who will know it. It’s not really a match for the classic Sammons/Tertis, or any of Primrose’s recordings with Spalding, Stern or Heifetz. It’s nevertheless good to have it around. Try also to catch their recording of it with the Aeterna Orchestra on Brunswick/Decca, or the live performance they gave in Prades with Casals conducting. Their Mozart Duo is quite spick and span, with tight trills and characteristically fine ensemble work and matching of tonal qualities. The variations of the finale are in safe hands here although ideally greater warmth would have been even more satisfying.

The Martinů is an important recording of a work inspired by, dedicated to and first performed by them. That inspiration was their playing of the Mozart Duos, which makes the alignment of the two most apposite. This recording takes us back to the kind of zesty and incisive sonorities the composer must have wanted to hear. The central slow movement is especially attractive, given a gauze-like texture by virtue of the use of mutes and where the sonorous Madrigalian impressions are at their apogee. The fresh air elements of the finale are well handled by the duo. Finally there is Vaughan Williams’ Violin Concerto - the Concerto Accademico. This January 1952 recording contrasts strongly with the 1939 Decca 78rpm set made by Frederick Grinke with Boyd Neel, which is slower in the outer movements. There’s a full ‘pesante’ quality in the opening, with a fine quotient of colour, good rhythm and lilting folk cadences, a sympathetically voiced slow movement, and an athletic finale. Once again, there’s no conductor, and Fuchs and the orchestra divide that responsibility amongst themselves.

The first-class transfers can be warmly commended. This is an astute selection, which will prove valuable to violin collectors.

Jonathan Woolf

Vaughan Williams review index