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Superb collection of works by Kenneth Fuchs

Kenneth Fuchs: Piano Concerto ‘Spiritualist’, Poems of Life, Glacier, Rush

London Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta
Kenneth Fuchs, composer

Kenneth Fuchs is a contemporary American composer and conductor. Kenneth Fuchs has composed music for orchestra, band, voice, chorus, and various chamber ensembles.

For those who are unfamiliar with the music of Kenneth Fuchs this new release in Naxos’ American Classics series provides a wonderful introduction. This is, in fact, the fifth album of Fuchs’s music to be released in the above series and all have been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of JoAnn Falletta.

This release contains four works: Piano Concerto “Spiritualist”Poems of LifeGlacier and Rush. The opening piano concerto is in three movements each of which represents a large-scale painting by Helen Frankenthaler. The final movement, with its jazzy syncopations and barnstorming finale is particularly successful. The excellent soloist Jeffrey Biegel copes with the technical demands of the work with impressive mastery and relates to the orchestra perfectly.

This is followed by the song-cycle Poems of Life (2017) is based on Twelve Poems by Judith G. Wolfin. This is sung by the counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who also performed the work at its premiere.

Glacier is a truly delightful virtuoso concerto, for electric guitar and orchestra, inspired by the sweeping vistas of Montana. It is a five movement work; each of which is based on the composer’s aural conception of the natural elements in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park: Glacier, Rivulets, Vapor, Stone and Going to the Sun. The last movement being a musical ode to the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road in northwest Montana. On hearing this work, in a first rate performance from both the electric guitarist D. J. Sparr and the London Symphony Orchestra, one cannot help but wonder why more composers have not conceived concertos for the electric guitar and orchestra.

The recording is rounded off by a third concerto, Rush, for alto saxophone¹. Once again we get first rate performances from soloist Timothy McAllister and the orchestra.

This is an outstanding recording both in terms of the excellent Naxos engineering and the the quality of the soloists, orchestra and conductor. JoAnn Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra seem to gain a closer affinity with the music of Kenneth Fuchs with each new release. All music lovers should give this album a try – Kenneth Fuchs is a master of orchestration and he writes tonal music of great imagination, some of which is not too far removed from film music.

iClassical rating: 

¹ I would love to hear Jess Gillam perform this piece!

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – Work No. 58 in our collection

Antonio Vivaldi (04.03.1678 – 28.07.1741) was an Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, and a priest. Vivaldi is widely recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers and his influence spread throughout Europe during his lifetime. His output of works was very large and he wrote many instrumental concertos, for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as sacred choral works and more than forty operas. However his most popular work is a series of violin concertos known collectively as the Four Seasons.

The Four Seasons or Le quattro stagioni is a group of four violin concertos, each of which gives musical expression to a season of the year. They were first published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight further violin concertos, as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione. The first concerto, Spring, borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of Vivaldi’s contemporaneous opera Il Giustino but the other three are wholly original. This set of concertos provides one of the earliest examples of a composer representing nature in music. We discover flowing creeks, singing birds, a shepherd whilst his barking dog is depicted in the viola section, storms, drunken dancers, icy landscapes, and cosy winter fires among other things. Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying sonnets (possibly of his own writing) that  with accompanying sonnets (possibly written by the composer himself) that illuminated the spirit of each season that the concerto was intended to evoke in the listener. These four concertos provide one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what was later to be called ‘program music’.

To add to our collection we have no hesitation in recommending the recording by Rachel Podger and her Brecon Baroque group that we reviewed in April.

View the other works in our collection.





A new, top recommendation for Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux

Rachmaninov: Études-tableaux, Op. 33 & Op. 39

Steven Osborne (piano)

Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux are ‘musical evocations of external visual stimuli’ or ‘picture pieces’. However, the composer did not disclose what inspired each one, stating: “I do not believe in the artist that discloses too much of his images. Let [the listener] paint for themselves what it most suggests.”

This essentially lyrical new account from Steven Osborne, with its fresh approach, leaves the listener in no doubt as to the quality of these pieces. The Allegro in C major of Op. 33 is played with great depth of feeling and expression as befits the piece. Osborne’s outstanding technique ensures that such a fiendishly difficult piece as the Non allegro—Presto in E-flat minor comes across superbly as the pianist negotiates the numerous octave leaps and chromatic scales.

This is playing of the highest order and Steven Osborne gives the listener every opportunity to “paint for themselves what each étude most suggests” in these imaginative and slightly mysterious performances. This is now our top recommendation for these works and is a must buy recording for all Rachmaninov lovers and those with an interest in fine piano playing.

iClassical rating: 

Hyperion recordings are not available on any streaming platform.

Bloch’s Schelomo – Work No. 57 in our collection

Ernest Bloch (24.07.1880 – 15.07.1959) was born in Switzerland to Jewish parents. He began playing the violin at the age of nine and began composing soon after. He settled in the United States in 1916 and took  US citizenship some eight years later.

Bloch’s musical style does not fit easily into any of the usual categories. He sought to find a way of expressing his Jewish faith through music. This resulted in a series of works that climaxed initially with the ‘Israel’ Symphony and Schelomo (a Rhapsodie hébraïque) for cello and orchestra. Both were completed in 1916 and successfully premiered the following year at the same Carnegie Hall concert under conductor Artur Bodanzky.

Schelomo established Bloch’s reputation internationally and remains his most popular work. Although its melodic and harmonic profiling is redolent of Jewish folk music and chanting (of which the composer made a special study) and reflects the natural inflexions and cadences of spoken Hebrew, it is undeniably the composer’s own invention. Bloch intended the solo cello to embody the voice of the biblical King Solomon (‘Schelomo’ in Hebrew), while the orchestra represents (according to Bloch) ‘the world surrounding him and his experiences of life; at the same time, it often seems to reflect Solomon’s inward thought while the solo instrument is giving voice to his words’.

Our top recommendation for this popular piece is Stephen Isserlis’ second (2012) recording of the work with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. On this recording both soloist and conductor recognise that the music’s poetic rhapsodising is key to Bloch’s vision. Together they ensure that the score’s pacing retains a strong sense of forward narrative and structural cohesion. Stephen Isserlis and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin move together as a single entity with no sense of sonic or emotional conflict as the work requires. Whilst Isserlis emphasises the dark nature of the score his playing has a haunting quality that has a most moving effect on the listener. There is a magical, ethereal sense of mystery about the performance that makes this recording stand out from the many other fine examples on disc.

This SACD also includes Frank Bridge’s Oration – Concerto elegiaco for cello and orchestra and The Loneliest Wilderness, elegy for cello and orchestra by Isserlis’ close friend Stephen Hough. Altogether a superb album that ought to appear in every music collector’s library.

View the other works in our collection.

Renaissance polyphony at its finest!

This is the third of our posts in which we share with you an album that we have picked from our shelves and we believe is worthy of your attention.

Victoria: Requiem Mass, 1605

Tenebrae, Nigel Short

Those seeking an historically accurate performance of Victoria’s Requiem Mass 1605 are likely to be disappointed but others can sit back and enjoy some truly remarkable singing from Nigel Short’s group Tenebrae.

This is a late work by Victoria, written some six years prior to his death. In this work, Victoria attaches smooth Counter-Reformation polyphony to highly expressive mass settings. It is one of the best a cappella choral works written during the Renaissance period. Tenebrae give us small group choral singing of the highest distinction and they produce a rich sound that brings out the truly transcendent qualities of Victoria’s music. The disc is superbly recorded and the Signum engineers deserve their share of praise as well. All in all this is our recommended recording of this fine work.