FUCHS Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
‘What a delightful man,’ quotes the booklet-note of this CPO disc of symphonies by Robert Fuchs. And yes, he does come across that way: the teacher of (among many others) Wolf, Mahler, Sibelius and Korngold, and a rare universally liked figure in the musical snakepit of late Habsburg Vienna, where his genial style led to his being dubbed Serenaden-Fuchs. And if you’ve heard the Naxos recordings of his five orchestral serenades, there’s a fair chance that you’ve already succumbed to his understated charm.
Fuchs seems to have taken his symphonies altogether more seriously – well, the first movements, anyway. In the lyrical opening theme of the First, you can almost hear him tweaking and teasing his melody to make it more susceptible to development. In the Second, premiered in 1887 when Fuchs was 40, he opens with a foursquare, rather stiff fanfare motif. In both works it isn’t long before he’s easing into a second group in lilting thirds and sixths, and his main influence just sings out: Brahms.
But it’s Brahms on a sunny day, and these two symphonies are at their most enjoyable and distinctive when Fuchs starts to relax: the little rustic dialogue for woodwinds and horn after 2'30" in the first movement of the First, say, or the languorous minuet (tr 7) that serves as the slow movement of the Second. Karl Heinz Steffens and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln handle these moments with character and warmth; in fact the playing throughout is engaging and expressive, and Fuchs’s ebullient finales really dance. For sound quality, too, this easily surpasses the only other currently available recording (Manfred Müssauer’s 1995 disc on Thorofon). Recommendable performances of two very worthwhile rarities: in other words, CPO doing what it does best.