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CLASSICAL  June 2008

CLASSICAL June 2008

Subject:

Action Music

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 24 Jun 2008 16:50:28 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (99 lines)

Kenneth Fuchs

*  United Artists (2006)
*  Quiet in the Land (2003)
*  Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze (1986)
*  Autumn Rhythm (2006)
*  Canticle to the Sun (Concerto for French Horn and Orchestra, 2005)

Timothy Jones (French horn),
members of the London Symphony Orchestra,
London Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta.
Naxos 8.559335  Total time: 64:00

Summary for the Busy Executive: Tonality redefined.

Kenneth Fuchs studied with, among others, Babbitt, Diamond, and Persichetti.
In sound, the bustling Persichetti exercises the dominating influence,
but Babbitt probably wields more in Fuch's habits of construction.

Most immediately, the sound of Fuchs's music grabs your attention in
ways similar to Copland's.  Bright, lean sonorities -- high strings,
widely-spaced chords, big-shoulder brass, and so on -- prevail.  Yet,
also like Copland, Fuchs has more to offer than orchestration -- namely,
real matter and argument.

Fuchs builds almost all the scores here out of limited sets of intervals
or even specific pitches: interval-rows and pitch-rows, if you will.
It's all tonal, even mainly diatonic, although not really minimalist,
if you care.  However, the means allow Fuchs to take an individual
approach to tonality.  Key-change means less than rhythmic and textural
change.  The piece takes shape as we hear the basic building blocks --
like individual tiles in a mosaic -- slipping into place.  The danger
that Fuchs sometimes courts is that he concentrates on the "puzzle"
aspects of a piece instead of its rhetorical flow.  At least, that's
what I felt with woodwind quintet, Autumn Rhythm, inspired by the Jackson
Pollack painting.  Incidentally, a noticeable part of Fuchs's music takes
its inspiration from post-World War II painting.  The work is built on
minor second, minor third, perfect fifth, minor seventh, and their
inversions -- major seventh, major sixth, and so on.  As one listens,
one notices which intervals he's fooling with, but I didn't, at least,
go anywhere.  The music neither transformed nor transported me.  It was
a lot of content and little meaning.

Nevertheless, everything else on the program I liked very much.  United
Artists, a curtain-raiser tribute to the London Symphony Orchestra, makes
a joyful noise, combining the enthusiasm of the outdoors-y Copland with
the propulsion of John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

Quiet in the Land, a mixed quintet, works the Copland American Pastoral
vein and evokes open skies.  Fuchs wrote it in Oklahoma, amid the plains.
He has also stated that since he began it when the Iraq war broke out,
how much quiet there really was in the U.  S.  and whether any of the
disturbance made it into the work.  I couldn't hear any, although I will
say that the piece gives you the feeling of the big sky without wallowing
in sentimentality.

Fuchs based his brass quintet -- Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze -- on two
paintings by Helen Frankenthaler.  Pieces for brass quintet usually fall
into two categories: flashy, extrovert glory or introverted meditation,
but Fuchs manages to have it both ways.  Half of the first movement,
"Fire and Ice," (based on the pitch row D# E G C B D) bursts with
fanfare-like phrases, while the latter half (with the brass muted) is
subdued.  The second movement, "Summer Bronze" (pitch row: E G C B A F)
gives the French horn a long cantabile line against an Impressionistic
shimmer of brass -- the satisfying torpor of a summer day.  One can also
consider the quintet a mini-concerto for French horn, since that instrument
takes the lead at almost every opportunity and plays against the mass
of its brothers.

On the other hand, Canticle to the Sun is a full-blown horn concerto,
written especially for the LSO's principal hornist, Timothy Jones.
Perhaps as a salute to Jones's national origins, Fuchs takes the hymn
"All creatures of our God and King" (tune: Lasst uns erfreuen), a
paraphrase of St.  Francis and harmonized by Vaughan Williams for the
groundbreaking English Hymnal in 1906, and essentially plays with it.
Fuchs calls it "fantasy variations," as opposed to a formal variation
set, because little marks individual variations.  But don't expect another
Vaughan Williams Tallis-like treatment.  Instead, Fuchs slices and dices
the tune down to characteristic intervals (we should be used to this
from him by now) and combines and recombines.  You hardly ever, if at
all, hear the melody entire.  Nevertheless, this is a gorgeous work,
especially its ecstatic opening and conclusion.  Parts of the tune peek
through the orchestral glitter and shimmer, like stars through the Aurora
borealis.

Falletta and the LSO do a very fine job indeed.  The composer should be
thrilled.  I hesitate to call the LSO the best orchestra in London only
because there are so many others that compete at its level.  Jones is a
wonderfully lyric player, with an intense singing line.  At least, that's
mainly what Fuchs seemed to respond to in his playing.  A winner in
Naxos's "American Classics" series.

Steve Schwartz

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