A Festival of Fucik

Most people have never heard of Julius Ernst Wilhelm Fucik — although they’re very familiar with his music. Fucik, sometimes called the “Bohemian Sousa” wrote a work entitled “Entrance for the Gladiators” in 1887. It was quickly adopted by circus bands, and is now known almost exclusively as the clown’s entrance music.

Neemi Jarvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra do an admirable job stripping away almost a century of circus music tradition to get at the heart of this work. Originally it was a slow, dignified march that (hopefully) conjured up the glory of Rome. In that, they succeed. The “Entrance of the Gladiators” sounds like a late romantic characteristic piece, more in line with the rest of Fucik’s ouevre.

Fucik’s musical career included stints with military bands, so it’s no surprise that his marches have all the appropriate flourishes and gestures. In that regard, his music does have a superficial resemblance to Sousa’s. Fucik, though, was a student of Dvorak and to my ears his music has a distinctively European sound.

This recital features several concert works by Fucik, including “The Old Grumbler,” a showpiece for bassoon (an instrument Fucik played).  Also included are some of his waltzes and other short orchestral works, making for a well-balanced program. There’s no question that these are light classical works. But Fucik is an imaginative composer, and these pieces sparkle and shine in an appealing way.

If you have the choice, I recommend purchasing the SACD version of this release. The added detail SACD playback brings to the music made me fully appreciate Fucik’s talents as an orchestrator — and the performing ability of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Neemi Jarvi.

Julius Ernst Wilhelm Fucik: A Festival of Fucik
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Neemi Jarvi, conductor
Chandos SACD CHSA 5158

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