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Robert FÜRSTENTHAL (1920-2016)
Sonata for Two Oboes and Piano in D minor, Op. 56 [14:24]
Cello Sonata in F minor, Op. 58 [12:01]
Viola Sonata in D minor, Op. 57 [16:12]
Violin Sonata in B minor, Op. 43 [16:25]
Piano Trio, Op. 65 [13:39]
The Rossetti Ensemble
rec. 2018, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London

The inaugural volume in this series (review) was devoted to the songs of Robert Fürstenthal and they looked back to the Viennese world he had been forced to leave. So too does this body of chamber music which constitutes, as Martin Anderson has noted, ‘an exercise in time travel’. It is a prelapsarian ethos, a Vienna that might admit Mahler’s influence but one that strongly preserves the sound-world of Schumann and, notably, Brahms. It is perhaps less a reflection of the composer’s lack of formal training, and more of his desire to preserve musical and aesthetic rootedness. He is, after all, on record as having said that ‘When I compose, I am back in Vienna.’

It’s been impossible to date the works with any certainty. They can provisionally be dated to the period when he began composing again, from the mid-1970s onward. The works have small harmonic or formal kinks, sometimes quirky changes of key too. The five-movement Sonata for two oboes and piano shows a charm and unforced lyric generosity of expression, long-spun melodies and lively fast movements wholly and unapologetically cast in late-Romantic language. The three string sonatas conform to the four-movement schema and to a greater – the Cello Sonata – or lesser extent show a personal, almost idiosyncratic approach to structure. They also, by and large, share a real compression of material. The Cello Sonata, for example, ends with a funereal slow movement that concludes somewhat in mid-air, as if more could yet be spoken.

The Viola Sonata opens with a recitative, continues with a very introverted, Brahmsian slow movement, probably the most overtly expressive of all the slow movements here, and a finale that is indelibly stamped with Brahms’ procedures. The Violin Sonata rather reprises the template of the Cello Sonata though its opening movement is more fluid and forceful, generating an attractive vibrancy. It ends with an Andante and small sequence of variations suffused in Viennese warmth. The bittersweet elements of the Piano Trio are accompanied by some manoeuvres in key changing and once again the slow movement is a high point of lyric directness.

The members of the Rossetti Ensemble are all well-known and expert performers and never seek to inflate the music beyond its natural constraints. Fürstenthal’s biography and music, well related in the extensive booklet note – there are essays by his wife, Michael Haas, and William Melton – amplify the value of this well-produced disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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