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Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, March 2010

Canticle to the Sun is a concerto for French horn and Orchestra. United Artists is dedicated to the London Symphony Orchestra. The other selections use four to six members of the orchestra including every wind or brass instrument, but only a single violin or viola, in different combinations. At times the resultant sound resembles that of a wind band. There is variety galore here. Melody and rhythm abounds and the compositions vary greatly. Romantic is here, so is post romantic, neo romantic and at times “fun-sounding” almost abstract music making and other hard to describe delights though outgoing and upbeat come to mind. I thoroughly enjoyed nearly every minute of this fine sounding and intriguing release. You will not be disappointed with its excellent audio quality. I wish I could describe the music more adequately though any listener desiring a bit of hearing music that is new or just a bit different sounding, should be delighted. Obviously this is a top recommendation.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, December 2008

Stanley Walden studied composition with Ben Weber and was a clarinettist for a number of years with the New York Philharmonic and the Met orchestra. He has taught widely—at Juilliard and Eastman amongst others—and has long been active in musical theatre. A versatile man, he’s worked as an actor and theatre director and has written film scores as well. He wrote the musical Oh! Calcutta amongst much else.

Maquettes have been in the news recently. A maquette of Antony Gormley’s vast sculpture of The Angel of the North has been conservatively estimated at over £1m. Walden’s musically descriptive quintet of maquettes is far less imposing. The opening Fanfare is an arrestingly dissonant call to arms. The composer’s own written notes are remarkably terse in places; he writes, very much to the point, that the second in the sequence, called Song, ‘is about solo and accompaniment’. The third, Texture, feasts on the potential for colour whilst the fourth is jazz influenced. The vital, vibrant Latin-American feel of the finale is explained by virtue of its having been written for Chucho Valdes, a Cuban pianist and composer.

Sh’mah—duo for violin and cello was written in 2002. This is largely based on three traditional Jewish sources though they don’t become—or at least don’t seem to become—obvious until the last section. Much of the writing is strenuous, and Walden inflects pitch for expressive uses. That keeningly allusive Jewish element makes a sure statement. Five Similes for piano (1989) is by some way the oldest work to be recorded. They are in essence memorial pieces—brief but not epigrammatic, deft but not obscure. They don’t all adopt quiescent and contemplative states; on the contrary, they seem to summon up personality traits unconstrained by the expected memorials of death. One in particular, Like bullets, is loquacious and at times quite strident—whereas Like a smile, the last, is reflective and employs more impressionist hues.

The Trio for the Brahmsian combination of horn, violin and piano is quite a big work cast in four movements. Pitch twisting still features in Walden’s vocabulary, as does relatively stark, terse, tense material—especially in the second movement where we also find a chorale-like theme for piano and violin slowly emerging. A neo-baroque figure emerges on the piano and there’s a slight Britten Lachrymae feel to its gradual unravelling. The scherzo is a ‘salsa and trio’—good fun though not too much so. Walden is on record as having said that this work was written ‘out of a controlled sadness and rage at the events of September 11, 2001.’ It’s in the finale that this seems most appropriate—a Battaglia of bruisingly wide-ranging emotions, from the stentorian to single lines, ruminative and disbelieving.

We have some first class, sensitively authoritative performances here. Walden’s music is never obvious and can be subtly withdrawn.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, August 2008

…the current disc continues a theme of interest to Fuchs and Falletta they have both visited together before; and that is musical imagery called forth by specific works in the graphic arts. A previous Naxos release [8.559224] contained Fuchs’s Out of the Dark for French horn and orchestra, a sort of Pictures at an Exhibition in proto-concerto form…as always, Fuchs relies upon modem, somewhat eclectic styles and techniques to achieve results that fall upon the ears without protest.

United Artists was written in 2006 as a tribute to the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s a busy and sometimes brassy fanfare type piece that highlights the various sections of the orchestra in a way that reminded me of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, albeit in American jeans and T-shirt rather than a penguin suit. I should think it would make an effective overture to a pops concert or curtain raiser for theater event.

Quiet in the Land…lives up to its title, with beautifully scored parts for the mixed wind quintet ensemble…finally, we come to Fuch’s concerto for French horn and orchestra. The work takes its title, Canticle to the Sun, from a hymn text originally composed by St. Francis of Assisi, circa 1225. Fuchs bases the concerto on a setting of the text to a tune found in the Geist/iche Kirchengesang, dated 1623. In 1906, Vaughan Williams harmonized the tune. …It’s a masterfully crafted work, with a horn part that any horn-player would relish. Timothy Jones does himself and Fuchs proud. Nor should JoAnn Falletta’s contribution to this enterprise be overlooked. As usual, she proves an adept leader who happens to be especially sympathetic to 20th-century American music.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, August 2008

The music of Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956) was entirely unknown to me prior to hearing this release. Judging from these works, it is dynamic, dramatic in both style and content, with harmonic clashes, yet still essentially tonal. United Artists, his tribute to the London Symphony Orchestra, is…a nice short piece that might someday fit into concerts of American music as a prelude or curtain raiser, though it is not terribly remarkable.

Quiet in the Land, an “Idyll” for mixed quintet, is both more abstract and more wide-ranging in mood and musical material. …at no point during its full 12-minute duration did I feel that this music was either redundant or losing focus or direction; it is an excellent work.

Canticle to the Sun, a concerto for French horn and orchestra, gives us, I think Fuchs at his most imaginative and colorful. I felt that it contained the very best elements of his music: color, lyricism, rhythmic accents, and dramatic interludes. The horn (played here by Timothy Jones) weaves a lyrical strand of melody based on a hymn tune—a tapestry of fantasy variations based on its simple triadic intervals and scale fragments. I absolutely loved this piece; next to Quiet in the Land, it was my favorite work on the entire CD…the sound quality of each piece is clear, natural, and attractive. JoAnn Falletta is an excellent conductor, precise and energetic in each of the pieces she is involved in. Indeed, in a way I felt that it was precisely her absence in the third and fourth works that led to their dynamic and emotional “flatness.” Highly recommended for the first, second, and fifth works, with reservations about the remaining two.

David Hurwitz, July 2008

Kenneth Fuchs writes colorful and attractive music that falls gratefully on the ear but has sufficient backbone and variety to reward repeated listening. United Artists is a zippy concert-opener full of orchestral brilliance and good tunes. Fuchs’ willingness, in common with many contemporary composers, to indulge a fondness for tuned percussion (bells, glockenspiel, etc.) gives the piece a certain Hollywood glitz, but that’s no crime in such extrovert music.

Saving the best for last, Canticle of the Sun is a horn concerto written for LSO principal Timothy Jones, who plays it extremely well. The piece is lovely—full of good tunes taking full advantage of the solo instrument’s lyrical and bravura possibilities—and scored with a fine sense of the horn’s ability to combine and interact with the various orchestral sections. JoAnn Falletta leads the LSO in performances that offer the right feeling of proprietary confidence, and all five pieces are very well recorded, resulting in a worthwhile disc, by a composer certainly worth watching…

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, June 2008

Based on two Grammy nominations for the first disc of Fuch’s music that Naxos produced in 2005 with the LSO and Falletta, the company has apparently decided to see if lightning will strike twice in the same place. Based on what I hear here, it may, though not everything is of consistent quality. I have made no bones about my admiration for JoAnn Falletta, and the LSO is playing like the best orchestra in the world these days, so any disc will stand a chance of success with these two ingredients. Add to the mix the amazing first chair hornist of the LSO and a concerto that serves him well, based on the poem by Francis of Assisi (“All creatures of our God and King”, etc.), and you have a winning combination. This work is startling in its technical proficiencies, based on a four-note motif that is battered and transfigured endlessly (and deliciously, and even hints of Britten in places, particularly in the scoring), and has a flowing, graceful feel to the phasing. This is an important work, and horn players especially can be glad.

Quiet in the Land is scored for flute, English horn, clarinet, viola, and cello, and is a delightful meditation on the expanses of the Midwestern United States. Fuchs indicates it was written during the time of Gulf War II, and as such provides a needed and responsible respite from hyperbole while reflecting on the true spirit of this land. Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze seems to me the weakest work here, though by no means negligible. It is the third work of the composer inspired by the abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, and perhaps that is the problem; the music is seems disjointed without any sort of tangible connectedness. Nicely scored, but ultimately falling just short of the meaningfulness present in these other pieces.

Autumn Rhythm is for woodwind quintet, and successfully captures the spirit of the painting of the same name, by American iconoclast Jackson Pollack, whose fantastically beautiful “drip” paintings are among the collective genius of American art. This work is brilliantly scored for the perfect ensemble, as it seems like only winds could successfully provide both the lyrical and the spiky moments so needed for such a portrayal as this. United Artists is a work for orchestra inspired by the first recording sessions that Fuchs had with the LSO—it is an effective opener to this disc, broad spaced and nicely fanfare-ish in nature.

The sound is first class here, and Naxos has done a fine service by presenting more of Fuch’s muse to the public. A definite winner all around!

American Record Guide, May 2008

Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956) studied at Juilliard with Diamond and Persichetti, absorbing that 40s and 50s Americanist spirit still in the halls back then (he studied previously with Alfred Reed, who also must have nurtured the style). The music here is soundly tonal, resolutely conservative, and devoid of abrasion. Half of the pieces are for orchestra; the other half is chamber music.

United Artists (2006) is a joyous, highly cinematic opener for orchestra (hence, I imagine, the title). Mr Fuchs is a fine orchestrator (Reed’s doing), and the LSD responds enthusiastically. The three ‘Idylls’ for chamber quintets are beautifully played by LSD members. Quiet in the Land (2003) is a peaceful bit of Midwestern Americana for mixed quintet of winds and strings.

The next two of these pieces were inspired by visual art. Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze (1986) is a two-movement essay for brass quintet on works by Helen Frankenthaler (it is her sunny silkscreen that graces the jewel box). The two movement’s characters are fanfare­like and pensive. The second of these works, Autumn Rhythm (2006) for woodwind quintet, takes its title from the painting by Jackson Pollock. In three casually structured, improvisatory sections, the piece retains the composer’s Americanist language while simulating Pollock’s drips and random motion. (Dan Trueman’s cheery string quartet Spring Rhythm, on Bridge 9149 [N/D 2004], offers another interesting “hearing” of this venerable painting.) Like all of these pieces, the emphasis is on optimistic lyricism, not at all of our time (or Pollock’s, for that matter). All of these pieces should take their place in the university chamber music repertoire, sure to be enjoyed by players and audiences alike, especially if played as well as they are here.

The best is saved for last with Canticle to the Sun (2005), a vivacious Horn Concerto written for LSD Principal Timothy Jones. The 20-minute, single-movement piece is based on a hymn tune from the Geistliche Kirchengesang, set in 1906 by Vaughan Williams but mostly sung today in William Draper’s 1925 version (‘All Creatures of our God and King’). The concerto is thoroughly cheerful, warm, and delighted with life–an unusual description for most music and art today. Soloist Jones is a formidable virtuoso and puts forth the work with stunning assurance. The orchestral works in particular are good reasons to pick up this disc. Notes by the composer.

Steve Schwartz, April 2008

Kenneth Fuchs studied with, among others, Babbitt, Diamond, and Persichetti. In sound, 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.

On the other hand, 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 contrasts with the mass of its brothers.

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.

Robert R. Reilly, March 2008

As promised, I will end this trilogy on American classical music (see the previous January and February installments) by covering some of the recent releases of works by composers of whom you have probably never heard. I believe their music demonstrates what I have contended in my last two missives: that American music has recovered from a near-death experience and is now fully itself again. All this music needs to succeed is an audience; it will do the rest. It is time for the audience to return. These new CDs are the reason why.

One of the privileges of writing for Crisis magazine, and now Inside Catholic, for the past 14 years is that some of the composers whose works I have reviewed have contacted me as a result. (With one highly dyspeptic exception, it has always been a pleasure.) Early in the millennium, I wrote reviews of two CDs containing Steven Gerber’s Symphony No. 1, three of his concertos (violin, cello, and viola), and the Serenade for String Orchestra, all of which are close to heart-stoppingly beautiful (available on Koch and Chandos labels). As a consequence, Gerber began a conversation with me—I was the director of Voice of America at the time—that ended with my asking him to compose a Fanfare for the Voice of America on its 60th anniversary. The piece was duly premiered and broadcast worldwide, and most of it was incorporated into his Second Symphony. The Fanfare, re-orchestrated, is also going to be incorporated into Music in Dark Times, which the San Francisco Symphony will premiere next March under Vladimir Ashkenazy.

I was reminded of how very good Gerber’s music is when he invited me to a performance of his Symphony No. 1 in Washington, D.C., performed by the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, conducted by Ulysses S. James, on February 17. Gerber won the Philharmonic’s composition competition in 2007, as a result of which his Symphony No. 2 will be played here in June. I had never been exposed to this semi-professional orchestra before and was astonished at the orchestral sheen it was able to achieve in its playing of Gerber’s work, which is so transparently scored and fluently written that it depends on a good deal of orchestral virtuosity for its impact.

Sometimes, when it might seem that there is not much going on in the music, Gerber is showing us the sheer beauty of the sonority he has created. He has a kind of elemental respect for the purity of sounds in the spirit of Max Picard or, in terms of contemporary composers, perhaps Arvo Pärt, though Gerber is no minimalist. The Philharmonic let us experience Gerber’s wonderful ear for string sonorities. It also captured the sense of looming danger and what Gerber himself called the “spookiness” in the middle section of the symphony. In an after-concert talk, Gerber admitted to “Copland and Shostakovich influences, and, yes, Britten too.” I would add Prokofiev.

All of which brings us to the new Arabesque Recordings CD (Z6803) of Gerber’s superb new Spirituals for String Orchestra (1999–2001), Clarinet Concerto (2000–2002), and the Serenade Concertante (1998). When I first listened to a preview copy of the CD, I told Steve that the concerto reminded me of Aaron Copland’s great Clarinet Concerto. He responded, “Copland is far and away my favorite American composer, and I am well aware of his influence on me, so I appreciate your comment all the more for that.” He added: “I love the Copland Concerto too, and I’m sure all that harp and strings at the beginning of my piece is what reminded you of it.”

The dreamy, languorous opening theme also struck me as Coplandesque, with more than a soupçon of Ravel, who could also capture this kind of magical languor in his music. Perky interchanges with the other winds and harp follow, accompanied by chordal interjections from the strings, which then lead toward a dazzling clarinet solo, played with great sensitivity by Jon Manasse, for whom the concerto was written. Toward the end of the movement, Gerber returns to the meltingly lovely opening theme.

The second movement has the moody element of spookiness mentioned in the First Symphony. The sense of unease and sadness becomes agitated before subsiding into a softer kind of melancholy. After a short clarinet solo, the music slowly builds again in a gathering sense of foreboding, brilliantly built, until the threat dissipates, if not disappears, when an ascending motive of three notes (actually, two up, one down), first sounds in the high strings against the vertiginous scalar descents of the clarinet, and is then repeated by members of each section of the orchestra, with the last note held in valedictory fashion by brass and then strings.
It is an extraordinary, inspired maneuver, one reminiscent of Copland at his best. Gerber takes the doleful theme and transmutes it momentarily into something that shines through the gloom. The composer explained to me how it works: “These three notes are the same as the first three notes of both the passacaglia and the fugue in that movement, only the first note is an octave lower this time, so instead of going down a minor second and then down a major third, this motive goes up a major seventh and then down a major third. The motive in this form can first be heard as a counter-subject in the fugue, first by the bassoon after the English horn has entered, then in the English horn, etc.” It is a breathtaking moment and an illustration of the tremendous refinement with which Gerber writes. The spooky theme returns in the clarinet, supported by strings, but then the concerto closes by returning to the gorgeous, dreamy opening of the first movement. This concerto is a major addition to the repertory.

In the Spirituals, “ten pieces based on material from Negro spirituals,” Gerber gives us some achingly beautiful string music, touched with a sweet melancholia. The string writing here and in the Serenade Concertante is solidly in the Gould-Diamond-Copland vein, and adds to it beautifully. There is graciousness to all of it, with a delicious dreaminess in places. These should become repertory pieces. The St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony, under conductor Vladimir Lande, plays these works in a moving and beautiful way.

Another composer with whom I have been in touch is Kenneth Fuchs. It began with a Crisis review of his first Naxos CD, featuring his exhilarating An American Place (for Orchestra), brilliantly written to express the “brash optimism of the American spirit.”Fuchs contacted me to suggest that I listen to his string quartets on an Albany Records CD. I found them to be among the finest American quartets I have heard.

Like Gerber, Fuchs is an exemplar of the recovery of American music, and he speaks eloquently of his experiences through the period of recovery. After reading the first two installments of this series, he wrote to me:

It is amazing to see now, from the vantage of over 25 years, what was actually happening. We really were at the beginning of a movement. The whole generation before that was so musically dry and barren and acrid and arid. Thank God people had the courage of their convictions to write music invested with feeling and emotion! . . .

I remember all too well, as a student at Juilliard in the late 70s and early 80s, what that felt like. Even during those years, well after the shift had started, it was a very steep climb out of a trench. The Juilliard composition faculty at the time consisted of Babbitt, Carter, Diamond, Persichetti, and Sessions. Quite a group. Although none of them really ever pushed their own styles as dogma, it took a lot of courage in that heady environment to write truthful music in a style that would eventually become part of “the new Romanticism.”

A new Naxos CD (8.559335), featuring the London Symphony Orchestra (or its members) under conductor JoAnn Flalletta, provides an expanding picture of Fuchs’s talents. The CD begins with United Artists, a scintillating tribute to the London Symphony Orchestra, which Fuchs came to admire during its recording of his first Naxos CD. United Artists is five-minute fanfare that has something of the vivacious spirit of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide or of one of Malcolm Arnold’s spirited confections. This is an excellent public celebration that lets the orchestra strut its stuff.

Quiet in the Land is as interior a piece as United Artists is an exterior one in spirit. This mixed quintet for strings and winds moves into Samuel Barber/Aaron Copland territory with its mellifluous melody and gentle, rippling beauty. Fuchs calls it “a sonic ode to the expansive landscapes and immense arching sky of the great Midwestern Plains.” As a Midwesterner, I can attest that this scenery evokes a deep sense of yearning and expectation. Fuchs captures these feelings with real poignancy. This twelve-minute piece is a reflective gem.

The next two pieces—Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze for brass quintet, and Autumn Rhythm for wind quintet—derive their inspiration from paintings by, respectively, Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock. I have never cared for the works of these artists but, if Fuchs can draw this kind of inspiration from them, I had better take another look, or at least try to see them through his music.

What continually impresses is the level of refinement in the writing. This man does not have to shout to make himself heard. As I have noticed in his work before, there is a sense of ease in his music. By this I do not mean easiness, but a calm confidence in what he is doing and in the quality of his material. Like Gerber, he is endowed with a major melodic gift. Additionally, he is not afraid to take the time to let things develop with a sense of natural growth. In Autumn Rhythm, he captures some of the insouciant breeziness that only a master like Malcolm Arnold could achieve in his wind writing. This is another exquisite gem.

The longest and last composition on the CD is Canticle to the Sun, a concerto for French horn and orchestra (2005).This work catches the kind of Celtic magic and orchestral glitter that I used to hear in the work of the late Welsh composer William Mathias. Fuchs makes a gloriously long-lined melody for the French horn out of the hymn tune to “All Creatures of our God and King.” This outwardly celebratory, declamatory work is infused with inner joy and spirit. Listen to it, or to any of these works, and you will know what Fuchs means when he says, “I make no apologies for writing from the heart.” No apologies needed; this is the vindication.

I have failed to fulfill my promise in my last article to cover the works of a number of other American composers whose works are also part of this vindication, like Peter Lieberson, Jon Bauman, Ned Rorem, Joan Tower, and Morten Lauridsen. However, if you listen to these two CDs, you will trust me on the rest, and I do pledge to review them in future installments.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, March 2008

Kenneth Fuchs is an energetic American composer now in his early fifties who is based at the Unversity of Connecticut. He has a wide range of compositions and is also involved in music education and administration. At Juilliard he was a contemporary of JoAnn Falletta, who very much wanted to make an orchestral CD of his music. The opportunity came in 2003 when she recorded a group of works with the LSO, which came out on Naxos in 2005. Fuchs was so stunned by the legendary expertise of the LSO in playing at sight for a recording that he wrote United Artists as a short tribute. It opens this second Naxos CD; a series of chamber works follows, and the disc closes with Canticle to the Sun, a horn concerto in which the British connection continues with the soloist Timothi Jones from the LSO.

United Artists is a kind of fanfare to this orchestra, who obviously enjoyed it—the idiom stems from Copland and early Carter. Quiet in the Land for mized string and wind quintet is contemplative in mood, generally music of low density suitable for illustration. This aspect comes to the fone in Autumn Rhythm, inspired by the paintings of Jackson Pollock: it would make an apt soundtrack for a series of his pictures.

Canticle to the Sun is based on the familiar hymn-tune “All Creatures of our God and King”. This is an imaginative idea where the soloist emerges from a tinkling backdrop and retains clear contact with the melody throughout, although it is never stated in full. The concerto adds up to a pastoral idyll with occasional spots for the timpani and lyrical cadenzas—all neatly played.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Kenneth Fuchs is fortunate indeed to have not one but two discs of his music recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. The first, in 2003, was nominated for two Grammys in 2005 and the second, recorded in 2006, should do well too, such is the quality of both the music and music-making. Holding it all together in the orchestral pieces and the mixed quintet is conductor JoAnn Falletta, who made such a strong impression in her recent disc of Respighi…United Artists, the first item on the disc, was written specifically for the LSO as a gesture of thanks for their earlier recording of Fuchs’s works (Naxos 8.559224). At its core is a four-note motif, presented first in the Coplandesque opening fanfare. But this isn’t derivative music; indeed, the composer’s distinctive ‘voice’ is evident from the outset, and his flair for orchestral colours and sheer lyricism shine through in this atmospheric opener.

Quiet in the land is another of those vast musical landscapes that might provoke comparisons with Copland, yet Fuchs’s evocation of the Midwestern Plains just as the Iraq war was beginning is rather more complex and ambiguous in its sentiments. As the composer writes in the liner notes, ‘I wondered how quiet the spirit of our land might be’.

Even without this programme the opening bars hint at harmony, subtly undermined by vague discord—just listen to that quiet, agitated figure that begins at 1:30, beneath the more lyrical and expansive melody above. It is such lucid, ‘hear-through’ writing, yet it’s full of warmth. The members of the LSO manage to bring out both these aspects of the score, blending precision with feeling. And what a haunting close, too.

The recording venue—St Luke’s in London’s Old Street—is very well captured by the engineers, with no hint of brittleness or edge. The musicians seem ideally placed, too, which is particularly welcome in Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze for brass quintet. Subtitled an ’Idyll…after two works on paper by Helen Frankenthaler’ the first movement yokes together two eternal opposites—fire (the restless first section) and ice (the more muted second section).

There seems to be an underlying creative tension in some of these pieces, perhaps an attempt to reconcile musical and emotional extremes. For instance, in Summer Bronze the music is strangely mercurial—now lyrical, now dissonant, now both. But it’s that other dichotomy, between outward virtuosity and inner feeling, that these seasoned players—always secure, always poised—convey so well.

Based on a painting by Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm does contain some jazzy snippets, but the emphasis seems to be on sonorities, with long, lyrical melodic lines and, at times, a quirky bass. It is a strangely ‘in-between’ piece; to use the autumn analogy, summer is not quite done, yet winter is on its way. In his notes Fuchs describes how the two states are drawn together and, indeed, how one becomes the other: ‘An unusual aspect of this composition is that in its final section the flute, oboe, and clarinet metamorphose into their lower—perhaps autumnal—counterparts, the alto flute, English horn, and bass clarinet.’ It’s a remarkable sleight of hand, deftly constructed and seamlessly executed.

Canticle of the Sun—a hymn tune based on 13th-century texts by St Francis of Assisi—is built on a four-note motif. Written for the LSO’s principal horn player, Timothy Jones, this 20-minute gem has a radiant, all-embracing optimism that is just irresistible. Indeed, it is not unlike a stained glass window, all those fragments of high colour glowing in the light behind. But at the centre of it all is Jones’s supple and passionate playing, surely as seductive a performance of this piece as we are ever likely to hear.

As with Respighi’s Church Windows, Falletta displays a sense of line and phrase that is most welcome in this music. And while I’ve grumbled about the sound on some Naxos releases I’m prepared to eat humble pie on this one. The engineers have done an exceptional job capturing the sound of the LSO at St Luke’s; what a pleasant change from the dry-as-dust Barbican.

Early days, I know, but this could be one of my discs of 2008.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2008

Writing about a previous Kenneth Fuch’s disc issued by Naxos in August 2005, I described the American-born composer as one of a growing breed who are bringing listeners in from the cold world of ‘Contemporary’ music. Critics, of course, have been notoriously inaccurate when judging composers of their own time, and those totally peculiar sounds we all too often hear may well prove to be the music of tomorrow. But for the present time today’s composers must tempt back into the concert hall audiences alienated by Schoenberg and his merry gang. It was the making of that earlier disc with the London Symphony Orchestra that Fuch’s conceived the idea of writing Canticle to the Sun and United Artists in tribute to the orchestra, and to the principal horn, Timothy Jones, in particular. United Artists will easily excite the most conservative ears, every department of the orchestra given scope to exhibit their virtuosity. At times Fuchs does ask us to journey with him to a different sound world, as you will encounter in Fire, Ice and Summer Bronze, for brass quintet composed in 1986 in response to abstract paintings by Helen Frankenthaler. Fuchs wrongly describes his attractive Autumn Rhythm as for ‘woodwind quintet’ when he really means ‘wind quintet’, the work including the French Horn in a solo role. Canticle to the Sun is not a virtuoso score in the accepted meaning, though the solo role must be very demanding. Jones is outstanding both in the ease with which he plays the technically difficult sections and in the smoothness of legato passages. The London Symphony is superb, the chamber group drawn from the orchestra playing with total conviction. The conductor, JoAnn Falletta, and Fuchs have worked with one another since they met as students, a fact that guarantees Falletta’s high level of insight into the orchestral pieces. Recording quality is impressive.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, January 2008

“Canticle to the Sun,” “United Artists,” “Quiet in the Land,” and “Autumn Rhythm” performed by Timothy Jones, French horn, the London Symphony and conductor JoAnn Falletta (Naxos). Maestra Falletta’s continuing loyalty to her Juilliard classmate, composer Kenneth Fuchs is well-served by this bright hued, ear-friendly second disc of Fuchs’ music by Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra. If one were to play “Blindfold Test” games with any student of 20th century music, you’d probably hear the guess that this neo-Romantic and neo-classic music was composed in the ’40s by a contemporary of Paul Creston’s, Peter Menin’s and William Schuman’s. These are brass, woodwind and mixed quintet pieces along with the “Canticle to the Sun” which is a concerto for French horn and orchestra. Even when his music is inspired by abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, as in “Fire, Ice and Summer Bronze” or Jackson Pollock in “Autumn Rhythm,” you’re in a world of tonality, melody and lyricism that never becomes more dissonant than neo-classic Stravinsky. The variations of the French horn concerto “Canticle to the Sun” take their origins from an old hymn tune shared with Vaughan Williams. The performance is loving and unfailingly warm…

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group