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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suite No 1 in G, BWV 1007 [16.52]
Cello Suite No 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 [19.09]
Cello Suite No 3 in C, BWV 1009 [18.51]
Cello Suite No 4 in E-flat, BWV 1010 [20.31]
Cello Suite No 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 [21.03]
Cello Suite No 6 in D major, BWV 1012 [22.19]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Duo No 2 in B-flat, K424 [17:22]*
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Three Madrigals [14:22]*
Lillian Fuchs (viola)
Joseph Fuchs (violin)*
rec. 1950-54
BIDDULPH 85002-2 [2 CDs: 153:19]

The string-playing siblings Joseph and Lillian Fuchs forged impressive musical careers in America. They also had a younger brother Harry, who became principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. Joseph, a fine violinist, embraced the roles of soloist, concertmaster, chamber musician and pedagogue. Younger sister Lillian also started out as a violinist but later, despite her diminutive size, switched to the viola on the advice of her teacher Franz Kneisel. From 1940, the siblings began concertizing together on a regular basis. Today, we can hear their partnership in three recordings, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, the composer’s B-flat Duo and Martinů’s Three Madrigals. The latter are dedicated to them. Lillian became the first violist to record the Bach Cello Suites in their entirety on her instrument. She taught at some of the leading conservatories in America, including the Manhattan School of Music, the Juilliard School and the Mannes College of Music.

The first thing that struck me when listening to these Suites was how modern-sounding Fuchs’ playing sounds. Take any of the Sarabandes, for instance, where there’s a noticeable lack of antiquated slides and position changes. Each of these introspective movements requires formidable musicianship and deep insight. The Sarabande from Cello Suite No 2 is a fine example, played with warmth and expression, with phrases eloquently shaped and poetically contoured.

The Preludes are bold and sonorous and make a dramatic impact. No. 5 is resplendent in nobility and stature, and No. 4 sounds far from mechanical, as it’s sometimes played. In Fuchs’ hands it has shape and vibrancy. The Gigues which end the Suites are spirited, uplifting and rhythmically taut.

Pablo Casals was much impressed by Fuch’s performance of the Sixth Suite (composed for a five-stringed instrument), declaring it to sound better on the viola than on the cello. The violist William Primrose didn’t share this opinion, considering it un-cellistic. He only recorded the first five Suites, late in his life. In the Gavottes I and II, Fuchs bites deep into the strings and they’re tempered by a rugged rhythmic thrust and buoyancy. The Allemande is radiant and persuasive, whilst the Courante’s crisp articulation delights with it’s quicksilver caper.

Lillian joins her brother Joseph for Mozart’s Duo No 2 in B-flat and Martinů’s Three Madrigals. Both were set down on 12 June 1950 for US Decca (DL 8510). They’re striking for the singularity of vision between the two artists and their unity of approach in terms of tempo, dynamics, phrasing and articulation. It’s interesting to note that Martinů wrote and dedicated his Madrigals to the siblings after hearing them perform the Mozart Duos in concert.

The recording of all six Suites occupied Lillian Fuchs from 1951 to 1954 and the sound is consistently good throughout. They were previously released in 2005 by Doremi, when they were reviewed in these pages. Comparing the two transfers, I have a slight preference for these from Biddulph made by David Hermann. They are marginally brighter, with a greater sense of presence. The Mozart and Martinů duos are not included on the Doremi release. In all of the recordings on this 2 CD set, Lillian Fuchs performs on her Gasparo da Salò viola. The excellent booklet notes are provided by Tully Potter.

Stephen Greenbank

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