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Hyperion Records

CDA67354 - Fuchs & Kiel: Piano Concertos
CDA67354

Recording details: December 2001
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2003
Total duration: 63 minutes 31 seconds

'Impressive additions to Hyperion’s superbly presented Romantic Piano Concerto series … they could hardly be performed in a more masterly and eloquent style … all lovers of a fascinating series will have to add this to their collection' (Gramophone)

'You can’t fault the magic wand of Martyn Brabbins, the sincere advocacy of the superlative Martin Roscoe nor the spirited and sensitive playing of the BBC Scottish band' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Irresistible' (The Independent)

'Both works are immediately attractive and good-hearted, stuffed full of engaging musical ideas satisfyingly exploited in craftsmanship of a high order … I enjoyed – am still enjoying – this disc enormously' (International Record Review)

'Martin Roscoe’s performances with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins make strong advocacy for these two 19th century charmers' (The Times)

'Roscoe, the BBC SSO and Brabbins play these attractive works with devotion and panache' (The Sunday Times)

'Needless to say, the performances and recording are immaculate' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This release has everything a Romantic piano concerto could wish for … the interplay between Roscoe and Brabbins lifts the music way above the dusted life it had for years' (Pianist)

The Romantic Piano Concerto
Fuchs & Kiel: Piano Concertos
Andante sotenuto  [8'50]
[untitled]  [14'35]
Adagio con moto  [5'01]
Allegro vivace  [7'36]

Music in Germany in the later 19th century found itself divided into two camps; the modernists, led by Liszt and Wagner, and the traditionalists who took Brahms as their model and who upheld the values of the classical period and Beethoven in particular. Fuchs and Kiel are very much in the later camp and both spent their lives in academic posts, as so often befits such establishment figures. They each wrote only one piano concerto and, as one might expect, these are not vehicles for empty virtuoso display but rather 'symphonic' concertos, both written in the traditional three movements, the first of which is a weighty sonata form allegro. The influence of Beethoven can be heard in each and the later Fuchs piece also shows a debt to Brahms. Interestingly Kiel taught Stanford while he studied in Germany and indeed these composers are very much the German equivalent of Stanford or Parry.

Martin Roscoe, who did such a fine job with the similar Brüll concertos (CDA67069), is our soloist and Martyn Brabbins and the BBCSSO give their usual inspired accompaniment.

Both works are premiere recordings.


Other recommended albums
'English Poets, Russian Romances' (CDA67274)
English Poets, Russian Romances
'Hahn & Massenet: Piano Concertos' (CDA66897)
Hahn & Massenet: Piano Concertos

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Robert Fuchs (1847–1927) was part of Brahms’s closest circle of friends in Vienna, a successful composer, and a highly regarded teacher. His admirers even founded the ‘Robert Fuchs Society’ devoted to his works. If people today have heard of Fuchs at all it is because of his nickname, ‘Serenade Fuchs’; the success of his First Serenade in D major, Op 9, premiered in 1874, was so great that four similar works followed and during his lifetime Fuchs was seen primarily as a composer of serenades, even though the catalogue of his printed compositions contains more than a hundred works in all the main genres: operas, choral compositions including masses and hymns, and orchestral, chamber, piano and organ pieces.

Brahms valued the compositional abilities of his younger colleague highly, and used his influence in publishing houses and musical institutes to help get his works distributed. In 1881 Brahms described Fuchs to his publisher Simrock as ‘probably the finest talent in Vienna, and a charming person too’. In 1891 he wrote in similar vein to Richard Heuberger: ‘Fuchs is a splendid musician, everything is created so finely, so elegantly and so charmingly! Every work of his gives pleasure’.

Certainly these judgements reflect the fact that Brahms was aware of his own superiority, but it is clear that he honestly respected Fuchs. On the other hand, Fuchs recognized the superiority of the renowned master without envy.

Fuchs was one of those original, down-to-earth musical personalities with which Austria in particular has been blessed. He was born on 15 February, 1847, in Frauenthal in Steiermark as the thirteenth child of a schoolteacher. Even at a very early age he revealed his liking for music, and a brother-in-law gave him his first lessons on the piano, the violin, the flute and the thorough bass. In accordance with his father’s wishes, Fuchs first went to teacher-training college before going to Vienna in 1865, where he studied composition under Felix Otto Dessoff. His examination piece, a symphony in B minor which he composed at the Conservatory, was premiered in 1868 and played by the Conservatory orchestra. In the years that followed, Fuchs was awarded numerous honours and scholarships, enabling him to continue his training. His first major success as a composer was with his first serenade in 1874. But during this early period he also wrote a lot of piano and chamber music. He soon also sought contact with the exclusive Brahms circle, with whose artistic aims he felt an affinity. But it was not until 1878 that he came to know Brahms personally, when the latter accepted the dedication of Fuchs’s first piano trio in C major, Op 22. As well as his compositional work, Fuchs also performed important functions on the music scene in Vienna. He was head of the Orchestra Association of the Society of Friends of Music (from 1875), organist at the Hofkapelle (court chapel) (1894–1905) and teacher (from 1886, professor) of harmony, and later also general theory and counterpoint at the Conservatory (1875–1912). It was there that he taught the generation of pupils who were to build the bridge to modernism, such as Hugo Wolf, Franz Schreker, Alexander Zemlinsky, Erich Korngold, Jean Sibelius and Ernst Decsey.

A crucial turning-point in Fuchs’s life occurred in 1897. With the death of Brahms his followers lost their ‘leader’, and with the appointment of Mahler as head of music and director of the court opera, a more progressive taste set the tone in Vienna. The Brahms circle was increasingly seen as conservative and old-fashioned. Fuchs, who stuck to Brahms’s aesthetic ideas and continued to write tonally-based music into the twentieth century, was seen in the final thirty years of his life as an ‘old Austrian master’, a fossil of a bygone era. In a eulogy on his eightieth birthday the journal Zeitschrift für Musik complained that the composer was ‘regrettably not well-known enough’. Fuchs died four days after his eightieth birthday on 19 February 1927.

How could it be that a composer who once enjoyed such high esteem could be so dramatically forgotten? The fact that his works were written at the time of the transition from the late-Romantic period to the modern era is not an adequate explanation by itself. Other reasons were also crucial. If his closeness to Brahms on the one hand assured that Fuchs came to the attention of biographers and lexicographers and helped him continue a modest existence in specialist literature, it also prevented him from attaining independent artistic respect. He was always viewed in relation to Brahms. For the most part, the musicians within the Brahms circle served as a welcome background for Brahms’s biographers, against which the object of their adoration could be revealed all the more gloriously. Things were the same with the biographies of his famous pupils, where Fuchs appears as a capable teacher and father-like mentor who encouraged his students’ talents and opened up a path for them to pursue great careers. His own significance as a composer is never recognized in this context.

Last but not least, Fuchs’s excessive modesty—which stemmed from a fundamental lack of self-confidence—proved an obstacle to the dissemination of his work because it prevented him from actively pursuing the publication of his own works by approaching publishers, artists, orchestras or other institutions. Thus the situation arose where he had been forgotten even in his own lifetime. This is all the more regrettable because there are many treasures in his output that are worth investigating and reviving.

Almost one third of Fuchs’s catalogue of works consists of piano music. If one also includes his chamber music featuring piano, this figure rises to two thirds. The piano occupies a central position in his musical thinking and creation. It is therefore surprising that he composed only one piano concerto.

The Piano Concerto in B flat minor Op 27 was composed in 1879/80. It was conceived under the critical eye of Brahms who was initially sceptical about the project because he thought that Fuchs did not have the necessary virtuosity to be able to write a rousing piano concerto. Brahms, however, seemed to have forgotten the fact that in 1868 at the Vienna Conservatoire the difficult decision had to be made as to whether Fuchs should be win a prize for his composing abilities or for his piano-playing, since he showed outstanding flair in both. According to his biographer Anton Mayr, Fuchs gave the second movement to Brahms for him to look through. He at first rejected it, but was forced to admit on closer analysis: ‘Now, if the other movements are like this, then you can be content’. And when he looked through the first movement he admitted that everything seemed much better than he had expected at the outset. The piano concerto finally became one of Brahms’s favourite works, the circulation of which was a cause very close to his heart. When, shortly before the premiere on 2 February 1880 in Vienna, the originally intended soloist Alfred Grünfeld fell ill, Brahms personally endeavoured to get an adequate substitute and proposed the highly regarded virtuoso Emil Smietansky. Despite these favourable conditions and despite his undeniable qualities it was not, however, possible for the concerto to hold its own on the podium for long. And that was regrettable, because it is a beautiful, masterly and virtuoso piece.

The main theme of the first movement (‘Allegro maestoso ed energico’) draws the audience straight into the musical argument. A stormy passage in unison contrasts with a calming gesture from the wind, but this is unable to maintain the impetus of the first subject. During the transition the music gradually quietens down before the second theme, a melancholy lamenting melody, is played first by the woodwind. Octave triplets in the strings also establish a reference to the main theme. After an epilogue of entirely new material the piano solo begins, with a virtuoso treatment of the first theme broken down into scales and arpeggios. For the most part Fuchs remains wedded to tradition; rarely does he contradict established structural procedures. On the other hand he surprises us with a wealth of ideas, both thematic and harmonic. For this reason, too, the development section becomes a laboratory, as it were, where the composer experiments with the material and provides new and surprising facets time and again. The reprise, on the other hand, again follows convention right through to the composed solo cadenza.

The heart of the concerto is the second movement, a simple and gripping chorale in D flat major comprising three equal eight-bar periods. It is introduced by the strings and continued by the piano. A somewhat more animated, more harmonically developed middle section forms a highly effective contrast. The chorale reprise is wonderful; here the composer shows that not only is he familiar with the coloristic potential of the piano, he is also in complete control of it. No one who has ever heard this episode will be able to forget it.

The finale is a rondo of sheer brilliance and offers the soloist countless opportunities to demonstrate his technical skills. This movement also starts with a rumbling passage by the orchestra in unison that is taken up by the piano and turned into the triumphal main theme in a glorious B major. This musical idea is so powerful and dominant that it prevails through the entire movement right up to the thundering octaves of the final stretta and even appears, latently, in the alternating interludes.

There are striking parallels between Friedrich Kiel (1821–1885) and the one-generation-younger Robert Fuchs—both in their personal lives and their artistic careers—so it seems obvious to unite both composers on one CD. Like Fuchs, Kiel was the son of a schoolteacher and originally was meant to pursue the same career. His extraordinary musical gift shone through, however, and he was eventually able to practise music as a profession. He enjoyed the admiration of colleagues and the educated public, but like Fuchs was too modest to popularize his own works. Kiel was also a significant teacher. From throughout Europe, and even further abroad, students would come to Berlin, where Kiel settled, in order to learn from him; he was seen above all as an expert in counterpoint. So Kiel also lived as a figure in the margins of the biographies of his famous pupils. Although he largely avoided public appearances, he was nevertheless a talented pianist, and this instrument features prominently in his output. As was the case with Fuchs, however, he composed just one piano concerto.

After his death, Kiel quickly slipped into obscurity and was classified by eager lexicographers as an ‘academician’, by which was meant a sterile guardian of a music tradition that opposed artistic progress and was stuck firmly in the past. The fact that they also called composers such as Max Bruch, whose romantically expressive violin concerto in G minor is still popular today, an academician shows the dubious nature of such labelling. And Kiel, who saw himself in the tradition of Bach and the Viennese classics, is too diverse in his output to be pigeonholed in such a way. He followed the works of his contemporaries, above all Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann, and by absorbing these influences into a thoroughly personal style became one of the most prominent music personalities of the nineteenth century. Given his origins, this path was by no means a route already mapped out for him, and only with great effort and discipline did he manage to fulfil his ambition.

Friedrich Kiel was born on 8 October 1821 in Puderbach, near Laasphe (Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein). From the age of six his talent was clear. His father supported the gifts of his obviously talented son who, between the ages of six and eleven, composed songs, marches, variations and other pieces and played them on the piano without any formal musical training. Later, teacher and organist Carl Batta (1807–1893) gave him lessons. A decisive turning-point in Kiel’s life occurred in 1835 when Prince Albrecht I of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg became aware of the young musician and took him to his court in Berleburg where there was a small orchestra, founded in the eighteenth century, which Kiel now joined. As well as the piano he was also given violin lessons, and after eight months was able to perform a concerto by Viotti. As a pianist he excelled in concertos by Mozart and Hummel.

Kiel’s compositional skills were also so promising that his mentor sent him to Coburg to receive further tuition under Georg Caspar Kummer (1838/39). Returning to Berleburg, Kiel made use of the opportunities presented by the court orchestra to put what he had learned into practice and create compositions for the prince’s court. He soon realized that the opportunities here were no longer satisfying his talents. A stipend from the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV finally allowed him to continue his studies in Berlin under Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn from 1842 to 1845. In 1852 he performed in public for the first time with his Opus 1, 15 canons, in chamber style, for piano. Despite acclaim from professional circles for this and other compositions, years of privation followed, during which time Kiel eked out an existence by offering piano lessons and teaching theory. In 1866, thanks to his success which had now set in, he was able to become professor of the Stern Conservatoire and this brought him a degree of financial independence. In 1870 he was appointed by Joseph Joachim as director of composition at the newly founded Royal College of Music in Charlottenburg. Kiel, on his recommendation, took over the composition class at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1871. In 1882 he finally became head of the composition class at the school. He finally became established as a composer with the success of his magnum opus, the Christus oratorio (1874). He was awarded countless honours and received prestigious appointments at other centres of music, but he refused them all, including the offer to go to Leipzig as choirmaster. What the musical world thought of Kiel is perhaps evident from a quote from Hans von Bülow, who was one of his greatest admirers:

Everything that this composer has given to the public so far has served only to earn him the respect and sympathy of the educated classes. Above all, he has the right to be treated from the outset with the respect due to a real master. Where this is not the case, one must assume a gap in the person’s knowledge of musical literature, and they should be well advised to fill it in for themselves as soon as possible. Kiel’s early works reveal such a maturity of spirit, such a rare store of knowledge and skill that not to know him can only be excused in the amateur.

Kiel’s pupils included Stanford, Arthur Somervell, George Bennett, Frederic Cowen, Victor von Herzfeld, Paderewski, Siegfried Ochs, Arnold Mendelssohn, August Bungert, Bernhard Stavenhagen, Theophil Forchhammer, Max Gulbins, Waldemar von Bausznern, Richard Nordraak and Emil Sjögren.

At the height of his fame, in 1883, Kiel suffered a traffic accident. He did not recover from his injuries and died on 13 September 1885 in Berlin. He was buried in the Cemetery of the Twelve Apostles in Schöneberg. In 1971 his body was taken to his place of birth in Puderbach where he was given his final resting-place.

If Kiel’s choral and chamber music is currently undergoing a renaissance, then his piano works for two and four hands also deserve greater appreciation. It is in these pieces that his musical character is particularly clearly expressed. They are perfectly crafted, sometimes virtuoso but never effusive, and always marked by a noble pathos. If you listen to their modesty and reserve then you can believe that their creator was so overwhelmed at his one and only public appearance in Berlin by the audience’s applause that he refused to take a bow. The pianist and music-writer Gerhard Puchelt aptly describes the effect of Kiel’s piano compositions by making a comparison with Mendelssohn: ‘Even at the outset the two musicians are very different. Mendelssohn’s piano music is always addressed to the listener, his ideas only endure if there is a partner who shares his feeling. Kiel has little of this directness, his music is inherently calming. But let him who will hear it’.

Here, perhaps, lies the reason why Kiel composed only one piano concerto. The essence of this form of composition demands a certain level of extrovertness that was alien to him. Nevertheless, with his Piano Concerto in B flat major he managed to write an undisputed masterpiece. It is marked throughout by a Beethovenian pathos, but without in any way being a copy. As always, Kiel also knew how to integrate outside influences into his style. The concerto was composed in 1864 and published one year later by the renowned publisher Simrock, which also published the works of Brahms. The work was dedicated to conductor, pianist and composer Hans von Bülow (1830–1894). Despite this prominent recommendation it failed to become popular. And yet it would certainly have enriched the monotonous programmes of the piano virtuosos of the time.

The first movement is infused throughout by the rhythm of Beethovenian revolution music. The main theme starts with an idea descending in a wonderful gesture that is repeated twice more and harmonically recontextualized. A relatively short transition leads to a cantabile second theme in B flat major. In the middle of a crescendo passage by the orchestra, the piano enters with virtuoso scales. What looks at the beginning like a solo exposition remains only an episode. After a few bars the orchestra again dominates and prepares the definitive entrance of the soloist with the main theme. Here Kiel plays creatively with the formal pattern of the sonata movement. Compared with the broad exposition, the development is kept relatively short and in terms of content is limited chiefly to the virtuoso gestures of the soloist. In return, the reprise has its surprises. It is virtually mirrored back and starts with the second theme. When the soloist performs the main theme fortissimo, he forms the transition to the coda.

For the slow movement, Kiel chose F sharp major, the key of Chopin’s Nocturne Op 15 No 2 and Barcarolle. From the outside the movement seems like a three-part song form in which a melodiously tranquil outer section frames a rhythmically accentuated middle section. However, Kiel seems less concerned with the thematic processes than with the general mood. He evokes dreamlike shadowy landscapes that would be worthy of Schumann or Chopin. This musical clair obscure is brushed to one side with a toccata-style finale. Here the composer interweaves rondo and sonata forms. The main subject (‘scherzando’) dominates the entire movement with its lively dance rhythm. The interludes are not very profound. Nevertheless, Kiel manages a more lively final peroration, which also offers the soloist adequate opportunity to show his technical prowess.

Hartmut Wecker © 2003
English: Hyperion Records Ltd


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'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 57 – Wiklund' (CDA67828)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 57 – Wiklund
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 58 – Pixis & Thalberg' (CDA67915)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 58 – Pixis & Thalberg
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Żeleński' (CDA67958)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Żeleński
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 96 kHz £10.50ALAC 24-bit 96 kHz £10.50 CDA67958  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 60 – Dubois' (CDA67931)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 60 – Dubois
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 96 kHz £12.00ALAC 24-bit 96 kHz £12.00 CDA67931  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 61' (CDA67950)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 61
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 96 kHz £10.50ALAC 24-bit 96 kHz £10.50 CDA67950  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 62 – Gounod' (CDA67975)
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 62 – Gounod
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 96 kHz £10.50ALAC 24-bit 96 kHz £10.50 CDA67975  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
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