Sweetly nostalgic chamber music from Robert Fürstenthal

The story behind these works is fascinating, and critical to appreciate them properly. Robert Fürstenthal was a young Viennese composer whose career was just taking off. Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and the Jewish Fürstenthal fled to the United States. He became an accountant and abandoned composition.

Only after reconnecting with his first love in the 1970s did Fürstenthal start writing again. And it was as if the intervening years never happened. Fürstenthal — in the 1970s — wrote in the same style he abandoned in the 1930s.

If these works were programmed with other compositions of the 1970s, Fürstenthal’s music would sound hopelessly old-fashioned. But that misses the point. Fürstenthal wrote from the heart, and that gives these works an authenticity that trumps modernity.

Fürstenthal’s late-Viennese style features unassuming lyrical melodies cushioned in rich, warm harmonies. In this second collection of Fürstenthal’s chamber music, we a set of instrumental sonatas, along with two notturnos for piano trio.

The Notturno in D-flat major is a quiet, elegiac work that reminded me strongly of Schubert. Its companion, the Notturno in D major is equally beautiful, though here the influence seems more Brahmsian.

The release features four sonatas; one each for flute, violin, oboe, and viola. Each has its own distinct character, showcasing the solo instrument to good advantage. I think these works would make wonderful additions to the instruments’ repertoires. Here’s hoping this Toccata Classics series will help make that happen.

The Rossetti Ensemble also recorded volume one, and in my review, I commented on their heartfelt performances. If anything, I think they sound even better here. By now the ensemble is very familiar with Fürstenthal’s music. That understanding is clearly informing these performances.

I wonder if Fürstenthal wrote any orchestral music. Based on the quality of his chamber music, those are works I’d very much like to hear.

Robert Furstenthal: Chamber Music, Volume Two
The Rossetti Ensemble
Toccata Classics TOCC 0542

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