Robert Furstenthal – A composer redeemed

The story behind Robert Furstenthal’s music is compelling. It might even be the stuff of movies. But in the end, the music has to stand (or fall) on its own merits.

The first part of Furstenthal’s story isn’t new. He was a young Jewish composer forced to flee when the Nazis annexed Austria. He emigrated to America, but the damage was done. His career as a composer was derailed, and he ceased writing music.

In the 1970s Furstenthal reconnected with his first love from prewar Vienna. She encouraged him to return to composing. He did, picking up where he left off.

The works on this release were all composed in the 1970s (or later). Yet they all sound as if they were written in the 1930s. Stylistically they remind me of Ernest Wolfgang Korngold, or perhaps Franz Schmidt.

Furstenthal’s music isn’t derivative. It’s just using a language that’s no longer spoken. So how should his music be evaluated?

Personally, I think they’re well-crafted and — within their style — quite imaginative. Furstenthal has a gift for melody and uses his motivic materials effectively.

The backstory helps explain why Furstenthal sounds closer to Robert Fuchs than Ernst Krenek. I don’t think it matters. Old-fashioned as they may be, these chamber works have a charm and an appeal that works on a purely musical level.

The Rosetti Ensemble delivers some heartfelt performances. Cellist Timothy Lowe brings out the nostalgic nature of the Cello Sonata in F minor, giving it poignancy.

Sarah-Jane Bradley imbues the Viola Sonata in D minor with a flavor of Hungarian/Romani expressiveness that perfectly suits the music. Violinist Sarah Trickey treats the Violin Sonata in B minor as an offshoot of Brahms, digging into the music with relish.

For me, the most successful work on the album was the Sonata for Two Oboes and Piano in D minor. It had an unusual combination of instruments, and so sounded the most original to me.

The backstory helps explain why Furstenthal sounds closer to Robert Fuchs than Ernst Krenek. I don’t think it matters. Old-fashioned as they may be, these chamber works have a charm and an appeal that works on a purely musical level.

Robert Fürstenthal: Chamber Music, Volume One
The Rossetti Ensemble
Toccata Classics, TOCC 0519

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