The central feature of this disc is the music of Robert Fuchs
(1847-1927), a composer much admired by Brahms. Yet over the
years Fuchs became known more for his students — Mahler, Wolf,
Enescu, Sibelius, Zemlinsky and Korngold — than for his own
music, other perhaps than the Serenades, which remained popular
even when they, like their composer, were seen as monumental
anachronisms in post-First World War Vienna. Despite his earlier
dislike of Fuchs’ popularity, Schoenberg — now on the ascendant,
as Fuchs fell — arranged a relief subsidy for the ailing man.
Indeed the two were parenthetically and temporally linked. In
1899, the year Schoenberg composed Verklärte Nacht,
Fuchs wrote his grand, late-Romantic Viola Sonata. Few conjunctions
more graphically explore the recessional in Austro-Hungarian
composition or more sharply define the ebb and flow of the old
and new. Fuchs’s Sonata is a work in the direct lineage of Brahms,
a sonata of high-class structural engineering, with room for
plenty of interesting thematic material and plentiful, indeed
bountiful exchanges between the two instruments. Both outer
movements are fluent, and the music-making is always engaging.
The finale in particular is a good test of ensemble, and asks
for some crisp bowing from the violist — both of which tests
are passed here with flying colours. Of genuine individualism,
however, there is less sign. Of the kind of stamp that Fuchs
left behind in those enjoyable Serenades, again, less sign.
His Six Phantasy Pieces Op.117 take us to his very
last year, and in a sense to the end of the Brahms-Fuchs epoch
in Austrian music-making. Fuchs’s students had flown or died,
and his music had withered and was hardly played. In his last
bow he produced six nostalgic character pieces, full of unforced
lyricism, delicacy, and expression. They sum up, perhaps better
than the Sonata, just what makes his music, whatever the prevailing
aesthetic may have been, so attractive.
The two Fuchs works are bisected programmatically by Joseph
Joachim’s Variations on an Original Theme Op.10 of
1854. Not only is this appropriate, as Brahms and Joachim were
great friends, and Fuchs knew Joachim too, but it expands the
reach of the recital. Joachim’s theme is a very beautiful one
and the successive variations are variously Schumannesque, light-hearted,
dramatic, melancholy and redolent of the Hungarian music that
Brahms so loved. Introspection is particularly reserved for
the last quarter of the twenty-two minute work. To finish we
have Dvorák’s Romance, in this adaptation for viola
and piano. The Czech composer was one of those who, like Fuchs,
Brahms had promoted to his publisher.
Thus we come, in a sense, full circle. If a by-product of the
disc is to encourage us to reflect on lineage and patronage,
the core is the fine performances. Viola lovers yet to encounter
Fuchs might usefully discover this disc.