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Falletta and the Buffalo PO Celebrates Foss!


Foss: Symphony No. 1/Renaissance Concerto Amy Porter, flute. Nikki Chooi, violin. Buffalo Philharmoic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta Naxos 8.559938 Total Time:  65:55 Recording:   ****/**** Performance: ****/****


JoAnn Falletta brings into broader awareness of composer Lukas Foss (1922-2009) in this new release featuring some of his 1940s works with a later 1980s concerto.  Foss, born in Berlin, considered himself an American composer (he emigrated here with his family in 1937 at the age of 15).  He was notably the musical director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1963-1970, he would also lead the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

The pieces on this new release are mostly in Foss’s Neo-Classical style with touches of the American modernism one hears in the work of Piston and William Schumann.  His Ode (1944) exhibits this perhaps the most though Foss’ own style is already quite present here with the interesting attention to counterpoint and blurred traditional tonality.  It is a meditation on those who gave their lives in WWII.  The work was premiered by the New York Philharmonic under George Szell was subsequently revised in 1958 for a performance with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  The piece makes for a solid introduction to his style.

Things switch gears momentarily for the Renaissance Concerto from 1985-86.  The work was composed for Carol Wincenc who premiered it with the Buffalo Philharmonic with the composer conducting and subsequently recorded it for New World Records at the time.  The piece is an excellent example of the way composers in the 1980s were looking for ways to blend ancient music, or previous era styles, into the modern language of the 20th Century.  The piece here does this beautifully with its semi-quotations and fragments of music by Rameau and Monteverdi.  The movements also bear title and musical markings that recall early music, framing the quotation sections with an “Intrada” and “Jouissance” dance respectively.  The gorgeous “Recitative” of the third movement is one of the more stunning aspects of the concerto.  Amy Porter provides a beautiful and moving performance of this engaging piece.

The Three American Pieces were composed  in 1944 for violin and piano and as such are a great display of Americana styles and references.  It is admittedly the composer’s most Copland-esque piece.  He orchestrated the work in 1989 for a reduced orchestra featuring violin soloist.  The music is a sort of homage to his adopted country composed at a time where this was a popular concert style.  Now it becomes a delightful work that can enhance concert programs looking for pieces outside the regular sorts of choices.  The folkish flavor and musical nods make it an easy audience pleaser.  Violinist Nikki Chooi has an exquisite sound that comes across very well in the lyrical moments of the piece and has a fine folkish articulation for the accents of the final movement. 

Apart from the concerto, the significant work here is of Foss’ first symphony.  It was composed while he was the MacDowell Colony (NH) in 1944 (as was the opening Ode).  The Pittsburgh Symphony premiered the work under Fritz Reiner willing to program such an ambitious work from the young composer.  As with other mid-century pieces, this provides a more modernist Americana style that allows for Foss to display his orchestral style.  The second movement (“Adagio”) allows for some unique color from the orchestra while also displaying great lyrical writing.  A scherzo appears next with an interesting symmetrical rondo design.  There are a few jazz inflections along the way as well.  The finale references the opening of the piece and then launches into a propulsive new idea that continues to propel the movement forward. 

Recorded back in 2022, the present Naxos release was part of the 100th birthday celebration for Foss.  The Buffalo Philharmonic featured and honored his work that year at a special Carnegie Hall concert.  Falletta also honored him as one of her mentors at the start of her career.  The recording here is excellent and captures the orchestra’s sound well in their own hall in Buffalo.  There is obvious love for the music here that comes across well.  This is an all around welcome release.  While thinking about the music here and the performers responsible for the original premieres it draws attention to the risks for new music that gave voice to many American composers throughout the mid-20th Century.  One has to wonder why there is not confidence to continue to revisit some of these works broadly, but at least listeners can explore the music here in this excellent new release.


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