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Patricia Pollett
Stringendo, October 2008

Lillian Fuchs (1902-1995) was a major force on the viola in the United States in the second half of last century, performing as a solo and chamber musician, then teaching and composing for her instrument. Hailing from a musical family, it was for Lillian and her brother the violinist Joseph Fuchs that Martinu wrote his Madrigals.

Perhaps it is as a pedagogue that she will be most remembered. Teaching at Juilliard and the Manhattan Scholl of Music, a generation of viola players in the United States have been greatly influenced by her teaching. She composed three sets of etudes and caprices in response to the lack of technical repertoire available to violists, who mostly use studies transcribed from the violin. This recording on the Naxos label of her complete etudes and caprices, along with the solo sonata, is by her granddaughter Jeanne Mallow using fuchs’ own Gasparo da Salo viola.

Mallow plays with authority. Her strong, well-focused tone is used to good effect. I enjoyed her instinctive sens of flow, allowing her rather free rubato to feel natural and balanced. It si clear that she has the measure of her grandmother’s works, both musically and certainly technically. The playing is clean, confident and masterly throughout.

Listening to two discs of studies is a rather daunting phenomenon. The three etude volumes are progressive in difficulty and designed for the lower viola range. For the student, it’s obviously an excellent resource. For the listener, the works provide uneven musical interest, with mundane technical legwork alongside the more substantial Sonata Pastorale.



Magil
American Record Guide, December 2006

Lilian Fuchs (1902-95) was the doyenne of American violists. Starting out on violin, she switched to viola early in her career and never looked back. A tiny woman, she played a huge Gasparo da Salo viola from which she drew a big, rich, magnificent tone. Fortunately, for this collection of her works for solo viola, her granddaughter Jeanne Mallow, no mean violinist in her own right, plays Fuch's viola. This is as close as we're going to come to hearing Fuchs play her own music. Almost all this music is of didactic character, so its appeal will be rather limited. The Sonata Pastorale is an enjoyable work with mild modernist tendencies, though not perhaps interesting enough to justify purchase of the set. the main value of this set will be for viola students looking for a model to follow in preparing for their lessons. Fuch's studies are very idiomatic and help the student with technical challenges unique to the viola and also help open student's ears to the instrument's tonal possibilities. I know, because I played these pieces when I switched from violin to viola. (It was the usual situation. Three violinists and one cellist get together to form a string quartet, and, the other two violinists had tiny hands, so it was up to me to make the switch.) As for the performances, Jeanne Mallow is a very accomplished violist, and she expertly conveys the wide range of moods expressed in this music. I can fault her on nothing, and she makes a nearly two-hour long program of studies about as enjoyable to listen to as I imagine possible.



Paul Shoemaker
MusicWeb International, December 2006

In the 1950s Lillian Fuchs recorded her arrangements for viola of the Bach solo violin suites, and in time the critical appraisal has been thumbs down. The cello suites on the viola, yes; the violin suites, huh-uh. But violists are grateful to her for what she did throughout her career: writing, recording and concertizing to improve the status of the viola as a solo instrument, instead of being merely the harmonic glue that holds the top and bottom of an ensemble together. We know that the bass line in a baroque ensemble is generally doubled by the harpsichord. But when you work with figured bass you see clearly that one of its functions is to emphasize the viola part and make it more audible, to help it to fill in the middle harmonies. The view from the viola is of the inside of the instrumental texture both up and down. To play the viola, as did, for example, Hermann Scherchen, is to be aware of the inner structure of the music, be it chamber or symphonic. As conductors, violists are generally concerned that the inner voices be heard and generally produce satisfying, analytical, performances of works that do not depend on flash or dazzle to make their point. We learn from a recent treatise on musical instruments (Musical Instruments: History, Technology and Performance of Instruments of Western Music by Campbell, Greated, and Myers. OUP, 2004, ISBN 0-19-816504-8) that the viola is actually too small for its tuning to be a scale model of the violin. Great skill and experience is required to place the resonances of the box so as to radiate the sound effectively, and a good viola is not only more difficult to make that a good violin but more difficult to play as well, especially if the player is to bring out the dark, contralto register that is the unique property of this instrument. Ms. Mallow achieves some deeply wonderful growls from her instrument as well as soaring sweet lyricism, and makes everything sound easy to play, which it most certainly is not. Of the works presented here, the Sonata Pastorale is the most musical, the one you are most likely to listen to repeatedly. The other works are pedagogical and although there are many moments of great beauty and interest, there is also some sawing and running up and down, the curse of music for solo string instruments. It is difficult to imagine this music being more musically or more sympathetically performed than it is here by Fuchs’ granddaughter, Jeanne Mallow, using her grandmother’s renowned instrument.



Paul Shoemaker,
MusicWeb International, December 2006

In the 1950's Lillian Fuchs recorded the Bach solo cello suites and the critical appraisal was very positive. She also performed the Bach solo violin sonatas for the viola but apparently never recorded them. But violists are grateful to her for what she did throughout her career: writing, recording and concertizing to improve the status of the viola as a solo instrument, instead of being merely the harmonic glue that holds the top and bottom of an ensemble together. We know that the bass line in a baroque ensemble is generally doubled by the harpsichord. But when you work with figured bass you see clearly that one of its functions is to emphasize the viola part and make it more audible, to help it to fill in the middle harmonies.

The view from the viola is of the inside of the instrumental texture both up and down. To play the viola, as did, for example, Hermann Scherchen, is to be aware of the inner structure of the music, be it chamber or symphonic. As conductors, violists are generally concerned that the inner voices be heard and generally produce satisfying, analytical, performances of works that do not depend on flash or dazzle to make their point.

We learn from a recent treatise on musical instruments (Musical Instruments: History, Technology and Performance of Instruments of Western Music by Campbell, Greated, and Myers. OUP, 2004, ISBN 0-19-816504-8) that the viola is actually too small for its tuning to be a scale model of the violin. Great skill and experience is required to place the resonances of the box so as to radiate the sound effectively, and a good viola is not only more difficult to make that a good violin but more difficult to play as well, especially if the player is to bring out the dark, contralto register that is the unique property of this instrument. Ms. Mallow achieves some deeply wonderful growls from her instrument as well as soaring sweet lyricism, and makes everything sound easy to play, which it most certainly is not.

Of the works presented here, the Sonata Pastorale is the most musical, the one you are most likely to listen to repeatedly. The other works are pedagogical and although there are many moments of great beauty and interest, there is also some sawing and running up and down, the curse of music for solo string instruments. It is difficult to imagine this music being more musically or more sympathetically performed than it is here by Fuchs’ granddaughter, Jeanne Mallow, using her grandmother’s renowned instrument.






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7:11:39 PM, 14 July 2014
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