Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) was a well-known Viennese composer in his day and a revered teacher of composition; among his students were Gustav Mahler, Jan Sibelius, George Enescu, Erich Maria Korngold, Franz Schmidt, Franz Schreker, Hugo Wolf and Alexander Zemlinsky. He had been a close friend of Johannes Brahms who often was the first to see and hear Fuchs's manuscripts. In German-speaking countries he was best-known for the two popular String Serenades heard on this disc; indeed, he was often jokingly referred to as 'Serenaden-Fuchs'.
The two String Serenades, Opp. 9 and 14, from 1874 and 1876 respectively, are entirely winning, tuneful, marvelously constructed works whose early popularity is easily understood. It is a bit mysterious as to why they fell from favor after Fuchs's death. Perhaps it is because the Viennese style of music had changed considerably with the advent of the post-romantic group of composers that included many of Fuchs's own students. And perhaps even in their own day they were a trifle old-fashioned, sounding more like Mendelssohn than more contemporary composers. Still, now at the distance of 125 years, their worth is clearly evident and it makes no difference that they were a bit out of fashion in the half-century after their composition.
The CD concludes with a performance of two pieces sharing the same opus number from 25 years later, the Andante Grazioso and Capriccio, Op. 63 (1900), lasting a total of about twenty minutes. They are clearly the work of the same composer but their harmonic language is a bit more chromatic and they express darker, more angst-ridden emotions.
The Cologne Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Helmut Müller-Brühl for 40+ years, from 1964 until 2008, and they made many recordings for the Naxos label. Among the notable ones are a series of Haydn symphonies Haydn: Symphonies, Vol. 24--Nos. 43, 46, & 47, Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 80, 81 & 99, et al., along with Bach harpsichord concerti Bach: Complete Orchestral Works (Box Set) and cantatas for alto J.S. Bach: Sacred Cantatas for Alto. The young conductor Christian Ludwig took over the post as Music Director upon Müller-Brühl's departure. He and the orchestra play these charming Fuchs works with grace and subtlety.