Notes and Editorial Reviews
Stephan Siegenthaler (cl); Stamic Qrt
STERLING CDA 1674-2 (59: 52)
Poor Robert Fuchs (1847–1927). Respected composer, eminent teacher (his students included Mahler, Zemlinsky, Enescu, Wolf, Schreker, and Korngold), and younger contemporary and friend of Brahms, he lived to see himself considered hopelessly outdated and irrelevant. To be fair, this clarinet quintet, composed in 1914, shows little
awareness of other musical currents in Vienna and Paris at the time; after all, the previous two years had seen the appearance of
Le Sacre du printemps
! And, in reality, the quintet doesn’t merely show the influence of Brahms; it oozes Brahms from every pore; its textures and relationships between instruments refer unmistakably to those of Brahms. There is even the compound-meter first movement, the intermezzo-type scherzo, and the theme-and-variations finale. Still, taking the long view, these things matter less than the fact that it’s a very engaging score, definitely
Brahms despite its very Brahmsian nature; the musical language is palpably different from the master’s in its measure-to-measure harmonic successions, as well as in the freer relationship between these harmonies and the underlying tonality. Among other Brahms-influenced composers I’d say Fuchs resembles Dohnányi more than Reger, although without the former’s characteristic wit. Fuchs’s distinctive musical ideas, together with his knack for integrating the clarinet into the fabric of the strings (again a trait shared with Brahms’s own quintet), make this a composition that deserves a place in the repertoire, if inevitably a secondary one.
Fuchs’s quintet has had at least a couple of other recordings, although this is my first acquaintance with it; by contrast, I can trace no earlier version of that of Ferdinand Thieriot (1838–1919). In his booklet note, clarinetist Stephan Siegenthaler makes the strongest case he can for Thieriot, but there’s no way around the fact that this is fairly thin gruel. Where Fuchs’s music is almost overwhelmed by the influence of Brahms, Thieriot’s (composed in 1897, the year of Brahms’s death) sounds as if Brahms had never existed; its taking-off point seems rather to be the music of Schubert and perhaps Weber.
Siegenthaler, a Swiss clarinetist who took most of the last decade off to found and run a medical equipment company, is for the most part an effective advocate for these works. He plays with a firm sound and excellent ensemble and intonation; only occasionally does the playing betray his years away from the instrument, in a tone that loses some focus and in a lack of rhythmic incisiveness in the scherzo of the Fuchs. The Stamic Quartet, a Czech group, supports him superbly; particularly in the Fuchs, in which violin and clarinet share equal responsibility for the principal line, the playing of first violinist Jind?ich Pazdera is first-rate.
Sterling’s recording is close to ideal: clear and transparent, yet pleasingly ambient. This disc will be irresistible to fans of obscure Romantic chamber music, to whom it is recommended.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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