Fuchs Works for Cello and Piano

Author: 
John Warrack

Fuchs Works for Cello and Piano

  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2
  • Fantasiestücke

On the memorial stone to Robert Fuchs, reproduced in the booklet to this record, his friends and pupils speak of him as a ''richly endowed composer, selfless teacher and rare human being''. As Dr Johnson observed, a man is not upon his honour when writing a memorial inscription; but in this case it seems to have been no less than the truth, and his pupils included Mahler, Strauss, Franz Schmidt, Hugo Wolf, Zemlinsky and Sibelius. A photograph of Fuchs shows him a distinguished looking man with a Brahmsian cut to his beard; and there is a distinctly Brahmsian cut to the two cello sonatas here recorded. Brahms himself was an admirer: Robert Pascall's admirable notes to this record quote him as remarking that ''everything is so fine, so skilful, so charmingly invented that one always has pleasure in it''. And as Professor Pascall has elsewhere added (in a useful Musical Times article of 1977), Brahms was seldom polite about contemporary composers.
Closer acquaintance with the music suggests considerable difference from Brahms. Though he took little interest in modern trends, composing in his own manner right up to his death in 1927 (allegedly from overdoing his eightieth birthday celebrations). Fuchs did explore his late-romantic idiom in quite an individual manner. He was essentially a melodic composer, but one with not only the fine pedagogue's mastery of such things as fugal techniques, but a highly personal and attractive love of surprising and elegant modulations (perhaps both Wolf and Strauss learnt something here). He had a craftsman's feeling for the not very easy texture of cello and piano, and I would even dare to suggest that Brahms could have learnt from these works in his own cello sonatas. But of what one cannot speak, if one is not a cellist, one should perhaps keep silence.
The Fantasiestucke are a little closer to Schumann in manner, and are indeed very attractive flights of fancy. They form a balanced sequence, and should be listened to as such. Fuch's invention is delicate, his explorations of textures more original here than when he is concerned with longer-range creative enterprises. Nancy Green and Caroline Palmer play all the works warmly and expressively, if perhaps sometimes rather strenuously: Fuchs is known to have asked for the first movement of the D minor Sonata to be played very calmly, perhaps more calmly than here. But that is a small matter: the record brings to the wider attention they deserve some very enjoyable works by a very fine musician.'

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