Robert Fürstenthal Music Works on Its Own Terms

In many ways, Robert Fürstenthal’s story isn’t an unusual one. He was one of several up-and-coming composers in 1930s Austria. When the Nazis took over the country, his career was derailed, and he was forced to flee. 

Like many other musicians, he emigrated to America. But that’s where the story takes a different turn. Fürstenthal started a new career in his new country and left music behind. Until he reconnected with his first love in 1973.

Fürstenthal returned to composition, picking up where he had left off in 1939. And he continued writing in the Post-Romantic style of prewar Vienna.

This release presents one of his choral works and two for piano. The Piano Sonata in F major was written in 1990, but it could have been 1930. To me the work has a Schumannesque quality to it, but with far more adventuresome harmonies. 

His Sonata for Piano Four Hands is a four-minute work that is densely packed. Fürstenthal uses the sonata form as a framework for several near-related motives. 

The centerpiece is Der Sonnengesang des Heiligen Franz von Assisi. This is a — for Fürstenthal — a large-scale work. It features a string quartet, piano, four vocalists, plus a choir. The work is an interesting mix of cantata traditions and fin de siècle  Post-Romanticism.

It’s an interesting work, with beautifully-wrought choruses. The choir, as recorded, sounded a little thin to my ears. I think a fuller sound would have added tremendously to the appeal of this music.

Still, though, these are works worth hearing. There’s an honesty to Fürstenthal’s compositions I really appreciate. He wasn’t writing for the market, audiences, critics, or fellow academics. He was simply writing to express the music in his heart. And that comes through in just about every passage.

Robert Fürstenthal: Complete Choral Music, Volume One
Philippa Hyde, soprano; Emma Roberts, alto; Rory Carver, tenor; Felix Kemp, bass
Ian Buckle, Richard Casey, piano
Borealis; Skipton Camerata; Stephen Muir, conductor
Toccata Classics

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