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Piano Concerto in B flat minor, Op 27
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.

from notes by Hartmut Wecker © 2003
English: Hyperion Records Ltd

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