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R Fuchs • Kornauth: Violin Sonatas etc

Litton Duo (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
BIS2574_Litton

Robert Fuchs • Kornauth
Kornauth: Violin Sonata; Robert Fuchs: Fantasy Pieces; Violin Sonata No. 3
Litton Duo
BIS BIS-2574 (CD/SACD)   75:45 mins

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Compared to its lustrous-toned violin and cello cousins, the viola’s more subtle and shadowy sound meant that before the mid-20th century, composers of solo chamber music tended to pass it by. That said, Vienna had (and very much still has) a fabulous string-playing tradition and culture, and the works featured here were part of that situation. The best, by far, is Robert Fuchs’s Sonata of 1909.

A celebrated teacher in Vienna of Mahler, Wolf, Sibelius and Korngold among others, Fuchs seems to have been content to compose within the fairly conservative boundaries exemplified by Brahms and Schumann. His Sonata has an unpretentious melodic appeal and quality that are something more than merely Brahms-lite; the Fantasy Pieces, however, written in 1927 in the composer’s 80th year, amount to little beyond a restrospective gaze towards the distant era of Schumann and Mendelssohn. The 21-year-old Egon Kornauth’s Sonata, too, composed in 1912, is a beautifully written post-Brahms statement with little evidence, as yet, of an individual creative voice.

Katharina Kang Litton’s playing avoids the turbocharged tone of some of today’s more famous soloists in favour of an unexaggerated poise and musicianship that’s a pleasure in its own right; it also relates to the kind of sonority that composers of Fuchs’s and Kornauth’s Viennese era would surely have expected, and been familiar with. Andrew Litton’s accompaniments, too, are melliflous and supportive.

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Malcolm Hayes