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Martin Anderson
Fanfare, February 2001

"Wonderful stuff! This is the third installment of Naxos's survey of the chamber music of Arthur Foote, born in Salem (MA) in 1853, and Boston-trained: He was a student of John Knowles Paine at Harvard indeed, he was the first prominent American composer of "serious" music who didn't feel he had to go abroad for his training. Foote has always been in some kind of circulation, of course: People know the name, and there has usually been a piece or two of his available on LP or CD, often the Serenade in E for strings. His chamber music is now relatively well represented in Schwann Opus, but, as far as I'm aware, this is the first time that a comprehensive survey has been attempted. And it is revealing Foote to be a far more important composer than most of us (including me) realized until recently, a natural melodist and a convincing builder of musical structures.

"The new release is one of the most sheerly enjoyable discs I've heard in a long time. From the opening bars Foote assured combination of spontaneous melody and symphonic momentum bundles the listener off his feet and sweeps him along with an easygoing surge of good-hearted emotion not that there can be many listeners who would resist such a glorious tide. The models are obvious: Brahms stands a slight distance off, with Dvořák, hovering rather more closely; Joshua Creek's notes suggest also Mendelssohn and Schumann as structural inspiration for the C-Minor work; op. 5. And, when one considers that this particular score was his first attempt at composing an extended piece (he first wrote it in when he was 29, and revised it a couple of years later), its assurance is astonishing. By the time of the Second Frio, op. 65, Foote was a quarter-century older and much more experienced; instead of that youthful ardor, there's a profounder mind at work here, more resourceful, more imaginative, preferring a darker tone, more powerful gestures, and a less straight-forward harmonic language - this one is more Brahms and less Dvo?ák, if you like. But Foote makes no attempt to muffle his natural voice: Rhythm, harmony, counterpoint may all be more advanced than in the earlier work, but there's still that exhilarating freshness about the invention. The two shorter pieces for violin and piano, dating from 1899 (Melody) and 1910 (Ballade), are clearly modeled on Dvo?ák's simple, ternary-structured pieces like Silent Woods, and are pretty well as directly appealing. In none of these pieces is Foote's identity established beyond doubt, in the way that you can identify Brahms or Schubert from a bar, even a chord; there seems to be a slight harmonic shyness at work. But that doesn't stop the music talking directly and honestly.

The performances are fabulously committed: Technically assured, they also have a tremendous feeling of freedom and spontaneity - just what this music needs. I urge you to explore these infectiously appealing scores. You'll then also want to examine Volumes 1 and 2 of the Foote cycle, which you'll find on 8.559009 and 8.559014, all of them a snip at Naxos's knock-down price if you live in North America; for, elsewhere, rather naughtily, they're on Naxos's full-price sister label, Marco Polo (on 8.223875, 8.223893,and 8.225117). Mind you, they get an enthusiastic recommendation even at full whack.

Paul Cook, September 2000

"Even though American composer Arthur Foote (1853-1937) died well into the 20th century, his music is definitely a product of 19th century Romanticism, particularly German Romanticism. This isn't to say his music is derivative, but it does hark back to modes established by Mozart, Schumann and Brahms, all of which seem to militate against the nationalistic use of any sort of American folk melodies. (Was he consciously trying to avoid sounding like Stephen Foster, the reigning folk-melodist of the time?) Whatever Foote might have been attempting in these chamber works, they certainly still delight. Oddly, parts of the perky Piano Trio 1 tap into the Dvorak's ethnic tunefulness, as well as Brahms, especially in the second movement. But, again, Foote isn't a Dvorak or Brahms wannabe. Both of the Piano Trios captured here delight in their own clever intermingling of each instrument's unique nature. The Melody for Violin and Piano, a clear sonata, was written in 1899 and most definitely sounds as if Schumann could have penned it, with the violin taking the role of the human voice (soprano or tenor, take your pick). The final work here is the Ballade for Violin and Piano of 1910, more of a duo than a sonata. Overall, this is an enjoyable collection of surprising delightful music, more European than American in character. The performers here play about as well as we have any right to expect, and they're captured in an excellently balanced, vivid recording."

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