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Robert FUCHS (1847-1927)
Trio in F sharp minor, for piano, violin and viola, op. 115 (1921) [27:09]
Violin sonata No. 6 in G minor, op. 103 (1915) [20:48]
Phantasiestücke, for viola and piano, op. 117 (1927) [23:05]
Enrico Maria Polimanti (piano)
Giulio Plotino (violin)
Claudio Cavalletti (viola)
rec. 2014, Studio I Musicanti, Rome

When I requested this CD for review, I assumed that the trio was one of the two Fuchs wrote for the “normal” combination of piano, violin and cello, and that it would form part of my survey of piano trios. When it arrived, I found that this trio was a much rarer beast: one where a viola is used instead of a cello.

For a relatively minor, though prolific, composer, Fuchs has gained a reasonable foothold in the recorded repertoire. I raved about a Marco Polo recording of his cello sonatas earlier this year (review) and a search turns up more than thirty reviews of his music on Musicweb International. None of the works presented here is a first recording.

A little biographical information is probably appropriate. He was born in Styria, and studied at the Vienna Conservatory, where he became Professor of Music Theory at the age of 25. This is certainly his lasting legacy, as among his pupils were Enescu, Korngold, Mahler, Schmidt, Schreker, Sibelius, Wolf and Zemlinsky. Brahms, who was not known for his praise of other composers, said of Fuchs that he “is a splendid musician, everything is so fine and so skilful, so charmingly invented, that one is always pleased”. His five serenades were his main claim to fame during his lifetime, to the point where he was nicknamed “Serenaden-Fuchs”.

I wish that I could report that these works impressed me like the cello sonatas, but they didn’t. The Trio might be a novelty – I only know of Thomas Dunhill's fine Phantasie, though undoubtedly there are more – but the viola does not balance the violin and piano like the cello does. There are some interesting moments in the work, but it is not helped by the thin and unattractive tone of the violin. The Violin Sonata, the last for this combination that he wrote, is frankly uninteresting and equally compromised by the violin. The six Phantasiestücke, his final compositions, are better, both in terms of musical interest, and also string tone. They are not, however, enough for me to recommend the disc for general listeners. Devotees of the composer and those who enjoy exploring the byways may be tempted. The notes, written by the pianist, are very informative, much more so than others from this label which I have seen.

David Barker



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