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Julius Ernst Wilhelm FUČÍK (1872-1916)
A Festival of Fučik
Marinarella, Concert Overture Op. 215 (1908) [10:59]
Onkel Teddy, Marche pittoresque Op. 239 (1910) [4:53]
Donausagen, (Danube Legends) Concert Waltz Op. 233 (1909) [10:18]
Die lustigen Dorfschmiede, (The Merry Blacksmiths) March Op. 218 (1908) [2:34]
Der alte Brummbar, (The Old Grumbler) Polka comique Op. 210 (1907) [5:00]
Einzug der Gladiatoren, (Entry of the Gladiators) Concert March for Large Orchestra Op. 68 (1899) [2:36]
Miramare, Concert Overture Op. 247 (1912) [7:47]
Florentiner, Grande marcia italiana Op. 214 (1907) [5:20]
Wintersturme (Winter Storms), Concert Waltz (orch. Pavel Stanek) Op. 184 (1906) [9:21]
Hercegovac, March Op. 235 (1908) [2:56]
Die Regimentskinder, (Children of the Regiment) March Op. 169 (1905) [3:02]
Ballettratten, (Little Ballerinas) Waltz Op. 266 (1909) [8:05]
The Mississippi River, American March Op. 160 (161) (1902) [2:45]
Unter der Admiralsflagge, (Under the Admiral's Flag) Concert March (orch. Jerome Cohen) Op. 82 (1901) [3:45]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
David Hubbard (bassoon) (op. 210); Aleksei Kiseliov (cello) (op. 184)
rec. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 2015

This disc is a delight. With the definite exception of that tune (it’s track 10, if you’re curious), Fučík’s music has been almost totally overlooked since his death. Neeme Järvi and the RSNO have done us all a great service by bringing it back to our attention. For a start, Järvi pays Fučík the great compliment of taking him seriously, and the resulting discoveries are thrilling. The sheer variety of what is on offer is ably demonstrated by the very first track. The Marinella Overture begins with some attention grabbing crash-bang-wallop syncopations (a Fučík speciality), but then melts, via a beautiful clarinet solo, into an utterly persuasive string theme that is as lyrical as it is beautifully played, before a gypsy-inspired theme, with jangling tambourine accompaniment, and a winning waltz lead into the stormingly exciting coda. Similarly, the main theme of Donausagen is as fine a waltz tune as any you'll hear in Struass, and tracks like Florentiner betray Fučík's origins as a bandmaster of the highest skill. Miramare is an extended, and very varied, portrait of a castle on the Gulf of Trieste, while Ballettratten is a marvellously vibrant waltz with echoes of the Fledermaus overture to its main theme. The Mississippi River is Fučík’s closest approximation to Sousa, while Unter der Admiralsflagge finishes the disc with plenty of impact and colour. There isn't a track on the disc that won't have you either humming along or tapping your foot. I had a perpetual smile on my face as I was listening, and that's a pretty high compliment to pay.

Neeme Järvi and the RSNO have a long and well established relationship, and that comes through in every bar of this music. For a start, there is such a lovely sense of warmth to the playing, and you get the strong impression that the musicians really enjoyed making this recording. There's the intrinsically appealing nature of the music but also the sense that everybody is sharing in the thrill of bringing it to life. There are also ample opportunities for winning solos, the most notable of these being the extended bassoon solo that forms the backbone of Der alte Brummbär (The Old Grumbler), played with versatility and wit by the RSNO's Principal Bassoonist, David Hubbard. There are umpteen other flashes of virtuosity elsewhere, though, such as the viola in Winterstürme and, while they don't have any solo spotlights per se, the trombones and tuba deserve a medal for the vigour and activity that they bring to the bass line.

The whole thing is shaped with wit and a great deal of love by Neeme Järvi who, as in his Suppé disc with these same musicians (review), demonstrates his finest bandmaster credentials. As I mentioned above, he pays Fučík's music the compliment of taking it seriously, and the persuasive flair of his conducting, be it bustling or lilting, is utterly beguiling throughout. Top marks, too, to the Chandos sound, which is ideal for repertoire like this: it has the breadth to take in the full orchestral picture adequately, but also the precision and clarity so that Fučík's many percussive effects (cymbals, triangles, tambourines, glockenspiels) come across with precision and brightness.

In short it's a hit. It's full price, but the disc is full to the brim, and where else would you get this much enjoyment for £15?

Simon Thompson

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett and Brian Wilson



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