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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
CHANDOS CHSA5158 SACD [79:56]

This is not the first all-Fučik CD but it is the first MWI has reviewed. In fact I found only one alternative (which I have not heard): Orfeo C147861A from the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Václav Neumann. The Orfeo runs two minutes short of an hour compared with 80 minutes from Järvi and Chandos. Fučik's may not be a household name, even in moderately well informed circles, but he is another of those one-work composers. He wrote Entry of the Gladiators - a piece associated in a rather tired and hackneyed way with the big top, high-wire artists, strong-men, lion-tamers and all the non-PC bombast of the circus, Rupert and 'Circus Boy'. In fact the piece was inspired by Fučik's admiration for the gladiator passages in Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1895 novel Quo Vadis. Also we know only a small part of the piece if that is our reference point.

The music is of the light middle-European denomination. Fučik's Marinarella Overture - the longest piece here at 11 minutes - storms along with an ear towards what one hears in Smetana and Dvorak's Slavonic Dances. It has a soft balletic centre with much Arabian exotica and elegant harp and woodwind. The recording very pleasingly renders the punch and the depth of the orchestral image with the engineers having the measure of the subtle tambourine. Onkel Teddy is referred to as a 'Marche pittoresque' and is reminiscent of the opulence of Friml and Romberg. Brash and bombast fall away for the Waltz Donausagen but not for long. This is a skilled, gentle and affectionate thing in the tracks marked out by the 'Waltz kings'. Nice that Chandos have presented this piece in five tracks. The episodes lead us far from the dance floor but inevitably bring us back there in grandiloquence. It works well as a concert piece. The Die lustigen Dorfschmiede March sports some breathy piccolos and a couple of high-spirited village anvils at 1:13 clinking away in tribute to the village blacksmiths of the title. Fučik had a sense of humour. Speaking of which Der alte Brummbar has the grumbling bassoon - Fučik's own instrument - centre-stage amid a floating waltz milieu. Entry of the Gladiators romps along - one can almost see Järvi with his elbows out exhorting the 'troops'. This recording reminds us that this signature piece is more than just the 'circus' element. Miramare is another 'Concert Overture' romp but with some reflective alpine poetry along the way. Florentiner is termed "Grande marcia italiana". Not for the first time in this collection there are trumpet parts redolent of Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien. Wintersturme opens with symphonic intensity. This forms what amounts to a micro-prelude to an elegant, nostalgic and fine-featured waltz; quite a discovery. The stomping and crashing March, Hercegovac meets, with panache, all aspects of the specification for the form as does Die Regimentskinder. In the case of the latter it has more of a Viennese accent. The waltz Ballettratten or Little Ballerinas is in five tracks with much delicacy juxtaposed with crashing oompah exuberance (tr. 16). The Mississippi River is quite an early composition in this collection - it doffs the plumed hat towards Sousa. We end with the concert march Unter der Admiralsflagge. This boasts some intricate and tricky rhythmic transitions and collisions. Again this is a comparatively early piece in a collection that spans 1899-1912.

As Nigel Simeone's more than helpful notes tell us, after years of immersion in the military band movement, Fučik moved to Berlin and there set up his own band. He died young in 1916. From those years come the 1915 Funeral march Pax Vobis - it would have been nice to have included this at the expense of one of the other pieces. It seems that during those Berlin years he also embarked on an opera Osud (as had Janacek) but this remained unfinished as did an earlier operetta Nachsaison of which only nine numbers were completed.

Fučik generously and idiomatically surveyed and done in crashing style.

Rob Barnett

Another review ...

Reviewed on SACD and as 24/96 download from theclassicalshop.net (also available as mp3 and 16-bit lossless downloads, with pdf booklet).

If you know anything by Fučík, it’s likely to be the ubiquitous Einzug der Gladiatoren (Entry of the Gladiators), a work inspired by his reading Quo Vadis.  From his very large output, with opus numbers to match those of the Strauss family – actually over 400 works – there’s a Warner Apex budget-price competitor for some but not all of those on the Chandos recording: the Florentine March, Op.214, Marinarella Overture, Op.215, Donausagen Waltz, Op.233, Entry of the Gladiators, Op.68, Der alte Brummbär, Op.210, Winterstürme, Op.184 and Hercegovac, Op.235, all appear on 0927487522 in performances by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Vaclav Neumann in the early 1970s, with Dvořák Rhapsody, Op.45/1.

Otherwise you will find Fučík’s music on anthologies, as on a recent Marco Polo release of Contemporaries of the Strauss Family, Volume 2, containing Regimentskinder and Um Mitternacht, with music by Hellmesberger, Ivanovici, Schrammel, Suppé, Zeller and others (8.225366 [75:51] – available as a download in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com).  Sample/stream/download from Qobuz, also with booklet. 

That Marco Polo recording comes from Fučík’s fellow-countrymen, the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Pardubice, conducted by John Georgiadis, erstwhile leader of the LSO, who has made something of a speciality of conducting the music of the Strauss family and contemporaries.  (Volumes 1 and 3 of the Marco Polo series are on 8.225365 and 970228, the latter download only at present.)  There’s also a budget-price Alto release of Georgiadis conducting music by Eduard, Johann I and Johann II Strauss with the LSO on ALC1070 and of the same team plus Johann III, son of Eduard, also with the LSO, at budget price on Chandos CHAN7128DL News 2013/2).

If you like the overtures, waltzes and marches of the Strauss family, you should enjoy those by Fučík, too.  There’s a hint of Sousa, too, in the marches.  There’s a story – perhaps apocryphal – that he was once banned from Prague for being too popular.

The opening work is the Overture to Marinarella and Miramare (track 11) is a concert overture.  In addition there are eight marches, three waltzes and a polka comique.   This last is entitled Der alte Brummbär, translated by Chandos as ‘The old Grumbler’ but more literally The Bear with a Sore Head.  In it the old grump is personified by Fučík’s own instrument, the bassoon, here in something of a Tubby the Tuba role.  I have to admit that I didn’t find it all that comique but ideas of humour are notoriously changeable.

Like all the other works, however, it is very tuneful and enjoyable and the performances do them all justice.  Even the Entry of the Gladiators (track 10) sounds less hackneyed than usual in its full form, making it understandable that Richard Strauss should think so highly of it.  I couldn’t find the Neumann recordings to sample for comparison, but they were always very well regarded.  The Fučík items on it once filled an LP and a full-price CD on their own, so they clearly represent value with the addition of the Dvořák and at the price (around £5).

The two Fučík works on the Marco Polo CD, Die Regimentskinder (track 4) and Um Mitternacht (track 13) are claimed, like all the rest of that album, as world premiere recordings.  That recording was made in February 2014, so it predates the Chandos Die Regimentskinder by a year.  It’s also taken at a considerably slower pace by Georgiadis (4:12) than by Järvi (3:04).  It’s a stately march from the former and more sprightly from the latter; though there’s plenty of life and much to enjoy in both I would plump for Järvi for my Desert Island choice.  The Czech orchestra may be less well known than the RSNO, but the music is in their blood and there’s little to choose between them.

I listened to both in 24/96 sound and to the Chandos additionally from the SACD stereo layer.  Again there’s little to choose: as you might expect the SACD and 24-bit downloads sound as identical as possible given that the former was played from a blu-ray/SACD player and the latter from my PC via DAC, but using the same amplifier and speakers.  All three sound good, if not quite as much larger-than-life as I had expected. 

Both 24-bit downloads come at something of a premium price – the Chandos costs £13.50, a pound or so more than you might expect to pay for the SACD – £10.50 from one dealer currently – and more expensive than the 16-bit (£9.99) or mp3 (£7.99) downloads.  You would expect to pay around £13 for the Marco Polo CD – no SACD equivalent – whereas the 24-bit download of that costs $20.48, with mp3 and 16-bit for $13.65.  (£13.99 (24-bit) and £6.99 (16-bit) from classicsonlinehd.com – also available for streaming there.)  At current exchange rates that makes eclassical marginally better value for 24-bit and classicsonline considerably better value for 16-bit.

The choice, then, is between the all-Fučík Chandos, the mainly-Fučík Warner and the very varied programme of light music from Strauss contemporaries on Marco Polo.  Actually there is only the one work in common between Järvi and Georgiadis, so I can recommend both.  If you can’t run to 24-bit for both or don’t have an SACD player, you shouldn’t go far wrong with 16-bit or the 16-bit layer of the Chandos, played on a CD player.

Whichever you choose, or if you choose both the Chandos and Marco Polo, there’s plenty for lovers of light music to enjoy here, some of it not previously available on record.

Brian Wilson




 




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