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See latest reviews of other albums..., May 2012

pleasant, largely unassuming works that flow nicely and make no major demands on listeners’ minds or ears…these pieces are not large-scale, almost-symphonic works. They are short (none reaches half an hour in length), very well constructed, lyrical and expressive, with effective slow movements that tend to be the heart of the works but never delve too deeply into emotion. Nos. 1 and 2, for string orchestra, are filled with features that sound like the work of other composers, such as Schubert, Mendelssohn and Dvořák. Both are very pleasant to listen to… © 2012 Read complete review

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, September 2011

One might think that Naxos, who have a well-deserved reputation for rehabilitating forgotten composers, have all but exhausted that particular avenue. Not so, as their busy release schedule confirms; for instance, they almost single-handedly revived the fortunes of Alfredo Casella, whose symphonies and other orchestral works have been well reviewed on these pages. The Austro-Hungarian Robert Fuchs, a new addition to this growing list, was a composer and teacher whose pupils included Mahler, Sibelius, Wolf and Korngold. But what of his music?

In his liner-notes Anthony Short reports that Brahms, who wasn’t known for praising young composers, spoke in glowing terms of Fuchs. The reason for that isn’t hard to find, for the works recorded here inhabit much the same Classical-Romantic middle ground as Brahms. As string serenades go—one thinks of contemporary examples from Tchaikovsky and Dvořák—the first has a freshness and bounce that’s most engaging. The opening Andante is especially mobile, the Cologne band playing with a judicious blend of passion and refinement. The recording is full and close, the upper strings fatigue-free, the bass a little stolid.

No matter, for this is delightful stuff. The Minuet is nicely sprung with the central Scherzo now grave now ardent. Conductor Christian Ludwig adopts sensible speeds that keep the music flowing very well; indeed, there are no longueurs to speak of, but then Fuchs isn’t tempted to overwork his material. It’s the rhythmic vitality of this music that makes the most impact. The is Adagio given a light, freewheeling character. Only in the darker textures of the Finale is there a hint of Romantic angst—not to mention a distinctly Mahlerian flavour to the harmonies. Still, this is essentially Classical in structure and feel, and none the worse for that.

The fact that Fuchs dedicated his second serenade to an Austro-Hungarian nobleman—shades of Papa Haydn—reinforces the sense that he belongs to an earlier, more traditional musical/social milieu. That said, this piece is blessed with the same virtues as its predecessor, from a nicely aerated Allegretto—the well-blended upper strings crisp yet lyrical—through to a gravely beautiful Larghetto, a brightly lit, ebullient Allegro and a somewhat Mendelssohnian Finale.

Not surprisingly, the fin-de-siècle Andante grazioso and Capriccio is much more gnarly and inward. Gone is the carefree charm of the serenades, although there are sudden shafts of light in the Andante grazioso and moments of real animation in the Capriccio. This music sounds more chamber-like in its intensity and focus. The lower strings—somewhat blurred in the serenades—are now more trenchant. That’s especially true of the Capriccio, where they have splendid passion and bite.

A most enjoyable selection, winningly played and well worth exploring. Indeed, this has whetted my appetite for the other Fuchs recordings in the series; what better recommendation than that?

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, September 2011

If the serenades had been Fuchs’s only contribution to music, it might explain why he virtually vanished from the mainstream almost immediately after his death, even though he’d been highly regarded in his own day. But the fact is that Fuchs worked in all the major musical media and his output, which included symphonies, concertos, a large volume of chamber works, three masses, and two operas, was considerable and diverse. And all of it—at least the works I’ve heard—is nothing but expertly crafted and melodically inspired.

Of Fuchs’s five serenades, the first three are scored for strings only and the fourth adds only two horns to the string ensemble. In the string-only pieces, however, textural richness is achieved through division of parts, so that for much of the time we are hearing six or even seven voices. Sometimes the violas play divided parts; other times, first or second violins are divided; and still other times violins and violas are divided at the same time. This lends both breadth and depth to the writing, allowing for greater fullness and luminosity to the sound as well as greater flexibility to the interplay of voices as they overlap and weave around each other.

As I said, if the serenades were Fuchs’s sole contribution to music, his disappearance from the scene might not be so surprising, for I will be the first to admit that these are not the stuff great reputations are made of. They were popular in their day precisely because they were the popular music of the day. As one listens to these serenades, especially their fast-paced movements, it’s easy to discern how Fuchs’s style was influenced by the polkas and quadrilles of Johann Strauss Jr., another composer, by the way, much admired by Brahms. So associating Fuchs with this type of crowd-pleasing entertainment music is not to denigrate him as a composer. His symphonies, concertos, and chamber works tell us that he was a man of both talent and substance. His serenades are tuneful, occasionally touching, and always enjoyable, reminding me in ways of some of Grieg’s orchestral music, like the Lyric Suite.

In checking all of the usual mail-order sources, I was surprised to find no complete collection of Fuchs’s five serenades. In fact, you would have to hunt down some fairly obscure labels featuring some fairly provincial ensembles to find recordings of Nos. 3 and 5, not to mention other versions besides this one of Nos. 1 and 2. And I had no luck at all finding even a single recording of No. 4. I guess I hadn’t realized when I began this review just how far Fuchs’s serenades had fallen on hard times, for the rest of his output in general is reasonably well represented on disc.

The Andante grazioso and Capriccio that concludes the disc is no insignificant filler. At 17 and a half minutes, it’s longer than the Serenade No. 2, and, written in 1900, it’s a work postdating the last of the composer’s serenades. Harmonically more advanced and complex, and emotionally darker than the serenades, the piece, suggests note author Anthony Short, is an example of Fuchs the teacher being influenced by his students, namely Sibelius.

One can only hope that this new recording of the first two serenades with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra directed by Christian Ludwig is the first in a survey that will bring us the remaining three, for in every respect the performances and recording are excellent. Strongly recommended.

Don O’Connor
American Record Guide, July 2011

In the highest meaning of the word, the music merits a description I normally loathe—soothing. It gives the listener a calm center in an irritating world. Johannes Brahms, not one to hand out compliments, had the highest admiration for Fuchs’s serenades. When you hear them, you’ll appreciate why.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, April 2011

In his day Austrian-born Robert Fuchs (1847–1927) was known more as a distinguished pedagogue, who could count Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), Franz Schmidt (1874–1939), Max Steiner (1888–1971) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957) among his students. But he was also a composer of some merit, and those liking the Brahms (1833–1897) and Dvořák (1841–1904) serenades (1858–59 and 1875–78) will find much to enjoy on this new release from Naxos.

A bit of a curmudgeon, Brahms was critical of young aspiring composers, but not Fuchs who became a good friend, and whose music he greatly admired. Robert was strongly influenced by him, particularly in his later works, which point the way towards Richard Strauss (1864–1949).

The first two of Robert’s three serenades for strings are included here, beginning with the earliest of 1874. In five movements, the charming opening andante has all the melodic mellifluence of Schubert (1797–1828). A gracefully delicate minuet and scurrying, colorfully modulatory scherzo follow. The latter presages the orchestral version (1892) of Hugo Wolf’s (1860–1903, and another Fuchs pupil) Italian Serenade (1887).

The moving, pathos-filled adagio brings to mind Edvard Grieg’s (1843–1907) more brooding things for strings. But not one to take himself too seriously, Fuchs ends the work in high spirits with a perky allegro that has all the wiggle of “Jell-O on springs.”

The second serenade, which came two years later (1876), is in four movements. It opens with a skipping allegretto that’s as delicate as a lace doily, and just as intricately fabricated. The following larghetto is in the same stylistic ballpark with Dvořák’s string serenade of 1875 alluded to above.

The penultimate movement is an allegro whose progenitor could have been some Central European folk dance. Mendelssohn’s (1809–1847) Italian Symphony (No. 4, 1833) comes immediately to mind upon hearing the presto finale. Set to a cantering rhythm, there’s an appealing chromatic fickleness about this movement that leaves the listener smiling.

The disc closes with a much more serious work, the two-part Andante grazioso and Capriccio for strings from 1900. The melancholy opening section is a masterpiece of string writing that glows like a red sunset. Perhaps Fuchs was experiencing the darker side of life as he aged.

It’s offset by the final movement, where jaunty waltz-like passages surround a central more introspective episode. The piece concludes matter-of-factly in the minor, leaving one feeling the composer wasn’t the “happy camper” he’d once been.

The eighteen members of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra featured here under their music director Christian Ludwig acquit themselves well. They play this superbly crafted music with great precision, but instill it with enough feeling to insure it never sounds the least bit academic.

The Cologne radio studio where these recordings were made was an ideal venue for a chamber ensemble of this size. The soundstage projected is perfectly proportioned with just the right amount of reverberation to insure a rich silky tone without any loss of clarity. There’s no hint of that rubbery bass which often characterizes many string orchestra recordings. Audiophiles will find this release a good test of their system’s ability to reproduce massed strings.

David Hurwitz, March 2011

Robert Fuchs (1847–1927) is best known today as the composition teacher of Mahler, Sibelius, Enesco, Korngold, Schreker, Zemlinsky, and just about everyone else who happened to be at the Vienna Conservatory from the late 19th century onward. As a composer he earned the respect of Brahms, probably because Brahms didn’t feel threatened by him, and was totally forgotten after his death. During his lifetime he was best known for his string serenades, two of which feature on this recording, along with the late (and quite substantial) Andante and Capriccio Op. 63.

Let’s get straight to the point: the music is wonderful—gracious, tuneful, not a note too long, and an unalloyed delight from first note to last. Yes, it’s not “heavy” or “serious”, but really, who cares? If you like Dvorák’s or Tchaikovsky’s string serenades, or Grieg’s Holberg Suite, or Sibelius’ Valse triste, then you are going to love this disc. The performances are perfect: flowing, rhythmically clean and snappy, immaculately tuned, and affectionately phrased. It just doesn’t get any better, and the sonics are pristine. The Viennese, of course, have always been suckers for light music, but that only made them particularly discerning. They went crazy for Fuchs. Check out this disc and find out why.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

Those who do not conform to our preconceived ideas as where they should have belonged in history are simply ignored, just as if they never existed. That is certainly true of Austrian-born Robert Fuchs—the mentor of Mahler, Enescu, Korngold, Sibelius, Wolf and Zemlinsky—for he was still writing urbane, polite and comfortable scores when the musical world was being turned upside down by Schoenberg, Webern, and their many disciples. It left his music perilously close to total obscurity after his death in 1927, only the recording industry rewarding the inquisitive with an occasional taste of his charming output. Nowhere is that more true than in his two Serenades dating from 1874 and 1876 when he was still in his late twenties. Both owing something to Dvořák, the music is airy and full of good humour. All the movements are quite short, and abound in memorable melody, the Adagio of the First almost guilty of sounding too beautiful. Of the two works the Second is the more serious, and you hear moments that introduce the influence of Brahms. The Andante grazioso and Capriccio came almost twenty-five years later, by which time the freshness of the Serenades had given way to more carefully structured music. It is still very well worth hearing as a pleasing diversion. The much recorded Cologne Chamber Orchestra, under their recently appointed Music Director, Christian Ludwig, sound a little breathless in the first Serenade’s scherzo, but elsewhere they are highly persuasive advocates. Sound engineering is impeccable.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, July 2010

Robert Fuchs was a composer who won high praise and close friendship from Johannes Brahms and who taught, at the Vienna Conservatory, students like Mahler, Wolf, Sibelius, and Korngold. He therefore could be rightly called one of the most unjustly forgotten musical figures of his time. One strand of Fuchs’ distinguished compositional career was a series of five light-hearted serenades for string orchestra, the first written at age 27. This rather short album brings together Fuchs’ first two serenades with a late Andante grazioso and Capriccio…

The first serenade makes for consistently pleasing listening: it will not replace the masterpieces by Suk, Dvorák or Tchaikovsky, but it has many pleasures of its own. The piece might be viewed as a romantic-era divertimento, five movements of wit, charm, and Viennese grace. The opening sounds youthful in its bright-eyed, easy-going charm, and the fourth movement, an adagio, really is quite beautiful. The scherzo’s good humor reminded me of Fuchs’ contemporaries in the (J.) Strauss family.

The second serenade is if anything even more delightful, starting with the opening theme, which reminds me of something familiar which, after three listens, I still cannot quite put my finger on. But then, the best tunes have a way of seeming like an old friend no matter how new they are. The slow movement here is less precious and more probing than in the first, although the finale more than makes up for this with an extra spring in its step and a concise, catchy dance over the finish line. The Andante grazioso and Capriccio, Op 63, is not labeled as a serenade, and lack the frivolity of the two other works, but the two-movement piece is just as long. The andante is lyrical and has an emotional depth unique on the CD, maybe because it dares to explore more than one mood. The capriccio is also on the serious side; I found it rather dry.

As suggested earlier, fans of the serenade for strings as a genre, particularly those already familiar with the famous serenades of Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Dvorák, Suk, Wirén, and Grieg (Holberg Suite), really ought to give this recording a go. Fuchs’ music is never lacking in inspiration or appeal, and while this disc is not about to challenge anybody’s ears or draw attention for its profundity, it does provide quite a bit of pleasure. The only further encouragement I can give is to report that the Cologne Chamber Orchestra plays with a great sense of lightness and grace throughout and the sound quality is hard to criticize—even the double-basses come through crisply. I can only hope that the Serenades Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are soon to follow on another CD.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group