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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Lukas FOSS (1922 - 1987)
Time Cycle (1960) [31.03]
Adele Addison, soprano;
THE IMPROVISATION CHAMBER ENSEMBLE: Lukas Foss, piano; Howard D. Colf, cello; Richard Dufallo, clarinet; Charles deLancey, vibraphone
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York, USA, 22 November 1960
and at Hollywood California, USA, 26 January 1961.
Song of Songs (1947) [25.49]
Jenny Tourel, mezzo-soprano
Recorded at St. George Hotel, Brooklyn, New York, USA, 27 January 1958
Phorion (1966) [10.04]
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, USA, 20 May 1967
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Notes in English, Deutsch, and Français. Photos of conductor.
The Bernstein Century series
SONY SMK 63164 [68.00]

Of composers great and small I have met or spoken to, Lukas Foss is the only one I actually had an argument with. I had chided him for performing Bach on the piano instead of the harpsichord, but he declined to repent. I was in the audience at the debut concert of the Improvisation Chamber Ensemble, and at the premier of Time Cycle with the composer conducting in the original version (heard here) with improvised interludes by the Ensemble. Later performances often omitted these interludes.

This disk of Foss’s ‘Greatest Hits’ is very curious in one way: There are 213 photographs of Leonard Berstein in the program booklet, and one on the face of the disk — but none of Lukas Foss, which would lead most casual readers to assume that Foss looked exactly like Bernstein. He didn’t. One is almost surprised that Foss’s name is on the cover in bigger print than Bernstein’s, but it’s turned sideways as if to compensate.

Foss was one of those composers victimized by the mid-20th century academic dictum that every work must create and thoroughly explore a completely original tonal, textural, and stylistic universe, never to be reused in any subsequent work. The idea of writing more than one work in the same style was considered akin to hebefrenic dementia. It was sufficient to discredit a work from nomination for a Pulitzer Prize (which Time Cycle did win), from public performance or even from any serious critical attention whatever merely by citing that it was ‘not original,’ meaning it utilized stylistic elements which had been used before, even if by the same composer in his own music. Ironically this was the time that saw the exploration through recordings and public performances of the complete catalogues of Haydn, Mozart and Vivaldi, composers whose approach was at the absolute opposite pole from this idea. Also ironic was that this demand of absolute originality was interpreted to require the imitation of Schoenberg, that is use of serial techniques. Hence Time Cycle. If Foss had flourished 50 years later, I think he would have been a happy neo-post-romantic composer and written many beautiful works, sounding perhaps like his Song of Songs, but after producing that masterpiece, he could never do anything like it again. He’d ‘done that.’

At the time Phorion was produced, the cliché of building "original music’ out of fragmentary scraps of quotations of other composers’ music was also riding high, but fortunately died out quickly. Phorion stands alone and is quite successful in its intended depiction of a ‘nightmare about Bach.’

The composer praises Bernstein for his attention to accurate and thoughtful performances, and the result is fine music, beautifully played and recorded. The vocal line of Time Cycle is astringent, but appealing, the improvised interludes just sound like modern music, nothing all that special, and the recording captures the difficult balances very well. The jewel of the disk is the Song of Songs, its rapturously beautiful melodic lines heartfully sung by Tourel. You’ll like that one straight off, find yourself humming the tunes. The others may grow on you as they have on me over the years.

Paul Shoemaker

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