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Uncle Dave Lewis, February 2009

One wouldn’t normally consider Lukas Foss as a composer of Hebraic-themed music given his investment in arch-Americana and more experimental kinds of endeavors. However, it was because Foss and his family were Jewish that they fled Europe in 1937 and the future composer first made his way to America. One of his first great successes was the orchestral song cycle Song of Songs (1947), based on the Biblical love poem of that name. This entry in Naxos’ Milken Archive series, Lukas Foss: Elegy for Anne Frank, covers four works of Foss that reach into Foss’ Hebraic roots and adds another by composer Robert Beaser as a bonus. Foss has described the title work, Elegy for Anne Frank (1989), as "one of the most soulful things I have ever done," and soulful it genuinely is. It is a spare, relatively simple movement for piano and orchestra conceived as a narrated piece featuring extracts from Anne Frank’s diaries, but over time it has gained popularity without the narration. Here pianist Kevin McCutcheon essays the sensitive solo part, which signifies the character of Anne; at its close, the piece drifts into the ether with an unfinished quality. Two of these Foss compositions are early; although dated from its orchestral version of 1953, Song of Anguish dates from 1945 and was originally a cantata with piano and dance elements; it is like a dark version of Foss’ cantata The Prairie (1944), set to texts of Isaiah the prophet rather than Carl Sandburg. Its theme of warning against a society out of touch with its soul remains a prescient one. Adon Olam (1947) is a setting of an eleventh century liturgical text for tenor, chorus, and organ in the harmonic vein of Song of Songs; it is very attractive and at times almost feels a little like "high holy minimalism," though is busier texturally and extroverted in approach. Finally, from Foss’ period based in Jerusalem comes Lammdeni (1974) for chorus and percussion; it takes some of the freewheeling playfulness of Foss’ Paradigm (1968) and grafts it onto a more practical template, utilizing some of the most ancient surviving Hebrew musical texts as a starting off point. It is gleeful and relaxed, not dissimilar to Carl Orff’s Schulwerk in some respects, but gleeful and not as rigidly structured as Orff; a delight.

Robert Beaser’s cantata The Heavenly Feast (1994) is based on writings of Simone Weil, anarchist mystic and philosopher who starved herself to death during the Second World War. It is a strong piece with solid writing and a stirring orchestral performance by the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz; the only problem with the recording is that soloist Constance Hauman is a little hard to hear in relation to the orchestra. That said, Lukas Foss: Elegy for Anne Frank certainly should not be seen as targeted at an audience primarily interested in Judaica, and it is a contemporary music album that should appeal to just about anyone who takes an interest in classical music given its accessibility; even the kids might take a shine to Lammdeni.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2005

on the list was a real discovery for me, and a stunner it is, too, from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music: Robert Beaser’s one-act opera The Heavenly Feast, coupled with a differently themed but equally powerful Song of Anguish by Lukas Foss.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Fanfare, November 2005

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Fanfare, September 2005

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