LUKAS FOSS (1922-2009): Complete Symphonies - No. 1 in G, No. 2 “Symphony of Chorales”, No 3 “Symphony of Sorrows” and No. 4 “Window to the Past”.
Catalogue Number: 10R008
Label: Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Reference: BMOP/Sound 1043
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Foss' symphonic output is concentrated at the early and late stages of his career, and highlights his intense engagement with music history. The First Symphony is firmly tonal, the precociously accomplished and confident achievement of a twenty-two year old, rather Coplandish Boston neoclassicist with neoromantic inclinations. The Second interacts with musical history in a different way. It derives its thematic material from Bach chorales, combined with the BACH motif in the slow movement. The work is far more adventurous, harmonically and in terms of orchestration than the relatively conservative First, and although anchored to tonality by the chorale material the writing is densely chromatic, at times bordering on a kind of neo-expressionism. A thrilling toccata, submerging the chorale theme in rushing contrapuntal textures is followed by a somber slow movement that uses the chorale the most explicitly of the movements, a dancing scherzo with something Mahlerian about it, and a determined, assertive finale. Over thirty years later, when Foss wrote his next symphony, he had 'been there and done that' with most of the major trends of the twentieth century, including radical experimentalism, and now felt free to pick and choose at will what influences best served his expressive intent in a remarkable polyglot synthesis. The work is quasi-programmatic, looking back over most of the twentieth century and commenting in movements subtitled 'of strife and stuggle', 'Elegy for Ann Frank', and 'Wasteland'. The first movement consists of terse, hostile exchanges across the orchestra, with a stunned, withdrawn central section. The slow movement and the solemn finale 'Prayer', troubled yet striving mightily for optimism the most tonal; the third, the least, but the symphony intercuts tonality and atonality freely. The 73-year old composer's final essay in the form is full of references and quotations from his own earlier works, reaching back to the tonality and elegant neoclassicism of his youth, refracted through decades of experience and agglomerated stylistic influences. In the strange dreamlike second movement in particular, they drift in and out of focus in an odd soundscape that almost resembles electronic music - little fragments of melody, a snatch of song, an accordion, a Jew's harp - floating up from the depths of unformed memory. The tonal scherzo is a grand orchestral transcription of a much earlier piano piece, and the extrovert, restlessly syncopated finale finds the composer celebrating his adopted American-ness in a piece based on his own American Fanfare, that sounds like a radical deconstruction and re-imagining of something from his early, Copland-influenced years. 2 CDs. Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose.