Sunday 22 May 2016

A new release from CPO shows Karl Heinz-Steffens and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln to be terrific advocates of Robert Fuchs’ first two symphonies, works that have memorable themes and a myriad of attractive ideas

The Austrian composer, teacher, organist and conductor, Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Felix Otto Dessoff (1835-1892) and Joseph Hellmesberger (1855-1907). He went on to be a professor at the Conservatory where his pupils were Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), Franz Schreker (1878-1934), Hugo Wolf (1860- 1903) and Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942). His compositions include operas and choral works, chamber and instrumental works as well as orchestral works that include three symphonies

A new release from CPO features the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln  conducted by Karl Heinz-Steffens  in Fuchs’ Symphonies 1 and 2.

777 830-2
777 830-2

No less a figure than Johannes Brahms thought highly of Fuchs music, especially his Symphony No.1 in C major, Op. 37. In four movements, the Allegro molto moderato opens with shimmering strings that are almost immediately overlaid by a fine flowing theme. The music soon rises in strength finding a short climax before moving through passages that are beautifully shaped by this conductor and orchestra, controlling all the little rises and falls in dynamics, finding a terrific sweep. There is sometimes, not surprisingly, a rather Viennese melodic feel with some lovely woodwind passages before the music rises again to a short climax before resuming its flow. This orchestra certainly do a fine job of tautly and smoothly negotiating all the little details before heading to a rather Brahmsian passage that leads to the resolute coda.

The WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln brings some lovely transparent textures to the Intermezzo: Presto rising through some dramatic passages without ever losing fluency and fine textures. There are some beautifully done little woodwind phrases and details in this particularly fine movement.

The Grazioso, ma molto lento, quasi adagio brings a lovely mellifluous melody, beautifully blended across the strings and woodwind creating lovely harmonies and textures. There is a faster section before the music finds a slightly darker tone as the music slows before subtly lightening and weaving its way forward. There is a quite lovely build up to the gentle coda, wonderfully shaped.

In the Finale: Allegro giusto the upper strings bring a lively theme that is shared around the orchestra, rising in strength before introducing more incisive phrases. Soon a light-hearted, fast moving buoyant version arrives before moving through quieter moments with lovely textures. There are moments that hint at Schumann and Brahms yet Fuchs still manages to keep his own voice as the buoyancy picks up. I even thought I heard a hint of Grieg before the coda arrives.

Brass sound out quickly to introduce the Allegro moderato, ma energico of the Symphony No.2 in E flat major, Op. 45, the whole orchestra soon joining in this rousing theme. Very soon a quieter section appears as a flowing theme progresses bringing many lovely little instrumental moments. The opening is repeated before slowly reducing in dynamics through passages of rich, finely blended textures. There are more lovely little woodwind details before a lovely little rhythmic motif appears. The music rises confidently with the opening statement sounding out again through passages of incisive, sometimes Brahmsian ideas, through some particularly fine passages and dramatic surges. The opening sequence occurs again before the music weaves its way to a fine coda, leaving one humming the main theme. This movement weaves an impressive tapestry of ideas out of the opening material.

The Andante has a rhythmic theme that I thought, initially, was leading into a familiar Brahmsian melody, but soon finds its own delightful way with a lovely central flowing section.

The WDR Sinfonieorchester brings a lovely lilt to the Menuetto: Allegretto grazioso, a most attractive movement that flows through passages of fine invention, beautifully orchestrated. Later the music picks up a pace, with timpani, to bounce ahead in a very fine rhythmic trio section, another memorable theme, before some beautifully shaped phrases lead to the gentle coda.

In the Finale: Allegro giusto a string motif leads quickly to a spry rhythmic theme for orchestra who soon find a greater flow with a lovely rubato, leading through passages of varying dynamics, finding much spirited variety before leading to an unexpectedly sudden, decisive coda.

Karl Heinz-Steffens and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln are terrific advocates of this music that has memorable themes and a myriad of attractive ideas. 

They receive an excellent recording from the Philharmonie, Köln, Germany and there are excellent booklet notes.

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