Friday, May 27, 2016
Robert Fuchs, Symphonies 1 & 2, WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln
Robert Fuchs taught music theory for many years at the Vienna Conservatory. His pupils included Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Jean Sibelius and Franz Schmidt, an extraordinarily impressive list. His compositions were respected and hailed.
After a couple of student symphonies his official "Symphony No. 1" was premiered by Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in 1884. Reactions were somewhat mixed, but it was honored by the Beethoven Prize committee that included Brahms and Richter with the award and 500 gulden. Some three years later Fuchs finished his Second Symphony and it was a resounding success.
Looking back now we hear an "early late romantic" in budding form, with something of the endless melodic sprawl of Schubert and perhaps Bruckner, though I see no evidence of a personal knowledge of the latter in the liners, and yes something of Brahms, Schumann and Mendelssohn (the latter for the scherzo-ish aspects).
Both symphonies are dynamic and very well thought-out. The orchestrations are well conceived and something rather Brahmsian.
If you listen without specific expectations you do hear something of the larger structures of the Viennese Mahler, though of course you might also say that of Schubert's "Great Symphony." Nonetheless there is a certain pull forward in this music.
Do not expect much in the way of the modernism to come. Ignore all of that and you have a symphonist with something to say and the full means to say it. The WDR Sinfornieorchester Koln under Karl-Heinz Steffens bring us nicely vivid readings, with plenty of nuance and detailed articulations to give us the Fuchs compositional outlook of his early period in full light.
It has much to recommend it and fills out our knowledge of the Viennese scene in those heady days.