A native of Austria, Robert Fuchs received support from Brahms and was a successful and highly regarded teacher and composer in his day. He did little by way of self-promotion however, and never achieved the international popularity of contemporaries such as Dvořák, was not appointed to significant public posts, and would have been considered hopelessly old-fashioned by the time of his death in 1927. Looking at the record catalogues he seems best remembered for his chamber music, though his orchestral Serenades were popular in their day.
These attractive recordings of Fuchs’ complete string quartets appeared in 2001 in what were still relatively early days for MusicWeb International, looking at the review links below. They appear not to have created much fanfare at the time, but seeing as the original separate volumes are out of print this 2 CD set is a welcome release.
These quartets can be heard as being in the tradition of Brahms, though with lighter textures and less exploratory depth, though Fuchs by no means feels himself beholden to convention when it comes to inner structure. They are all ordered in four movements, and with the exception of the minor-key String Quartet Op. 62 all are in a major key, and have a scherzo second movement followed by a slow third movement. The style is Romantic; fairly easy-going and ‘grazioso’, but the music is superbly crafted, making the quartet format into something appealing transparent in terms of its sound. This derives from a largely melodic idiom in which accompaniments for the main ‘tune’ at any particular moment are kept light and reasonably uncomplicated. There is a certain dramatic spirit that also adds contrast, explored for instance in Op. 71 which also has some intriguing though somewhat incidental modulatory twists. Drama is always followed by repose however, so emotional tensions are never screwed up too tightly.
This is all well and good, but in a musical world in which we are entertained but not particularly challenged we are left with more a feel of a general impression gained from this set of quartets as a whole, rather than certain highlights or favourite movements which can be pointed out as memorable. Brahms wrote that “Fuchs is a splendid musician, everything is so fine and so skilful, so charmingly invented, that one is always pleased”, and this is still very true today. That said, I’ve had nothing but pleasure from these excellent performances, and will be sure to put them on when having a dressing-gown and slippers evening with a book in front of the fire.
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