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Lukas FOSS (b. 1922)
The Complete Works for Solo Piano

Grotesque Dance (1938) [04:02] [4:29]
Four Two-Voiced Inventions (1938) [7:32] [9:02]
Passacaglia (1941) [5:43] [6:22]
Fantasy Rondo (1946) [09:06] [9:24]
Prelude in D major (1951) [2:12] [3:22]
Scherzo Ricercato (1953) [5:00] [6:16]
Solo (1981) [13:25] [13:17]
For Lenny: Variation on "New York, New York" (1988) [02:10] [2:31]
N.B. I have included the timings from Scott Dunn’s recording on Naxos 8.559179 for comparison - highlighted in orange.
Interview of Mr Foss by Mr. Beliavsky (2002) [8:52]
Daniel Beliavsky, piano
Recorded at: - Milwaukee, Wisconsin July 2002.
SONATA BOP 001 [59:21] [54:43]

 

First of all an apology and then mitigation! I recently reviewed the Naxos ‘Complete Solo Piano Works of Lukas Foss’ for Musicweb. I had implied that this was the one and only recording of the (nearly) complete oeuvres for piano. Recently I received an email from Daniel Beliavsky pointing out to me that he had produced a CD with identical repertoire timed to celebrate the composer’s eightieth birthday. It hit the streets two years before the Naxos version. And he was gracious enough to send me a copy to review!

Now for the excuses! I use the Arkiv CD webpage as a reference database to see what is recorded. And this database does not mention Daniel’s offering. I confess that if I had investigated further I would have come across a number of net references to this CD. However I did not feel that it was necessary at that time to fully research the subject.

Now the first thing to say about this CD is that it does not actually give the ‘complete’ piano works of the eminent Lukas Foss. The early ‘Sonatina’ and a Tango are not recorded. However this is a complaint I have already made concerning the Naxos disc. I believe that, unless it is expressly against the composer’s wishes, early ‘horrors’ ought to be included in so called ‘complete’ cycles. Besides, it would have filled out both CDs to something over the hour.

It is not necessary to consider the historical background to the various works on this disc. I explored this aspect in my previous review. However the key to the present performances is the close working relationship between the composer and the recitalist.

One of the first things I noticed is the respective timings of the various works. I do not have access to the scores so I cannot check the dynamics and metronome markings. However in general Beliavsky takes these works at a faster pace than Scott Dunn.

I asked Beliavsky about these temporal variations and he assured me that he had worked through each piece with Lukas Foss and as far has he knew had fairly represented the composer’s preferred interpretations. Apparently Foss felt that a faster tempo ‘was necessary to promote and clarify the thought-line as well as the architectural proportions of the music.’

Beliavsky further suggested to me that he tried to be sympathetic to the metronomic values indicated in the piano score. However some of these were ‘horrendously difficult to follow.’

The presentation of this CD is certainly attractive. The playing is assured and always expressive. The contrast between the minimalist elements of Solo and the sheer lyricism of the Prelude in D are well made. The sound is well balanced and always clear.

The pianist has contributed a short but fascinating essay which is required reading for all who would understand Foss’s piano music.

Until this CD dropped onto my doorstep I had not heard of Daniel Beliavsky, so a few words about his career may not be out of place.

He began his professional career at fifteen years of age with a performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. This was 1993.

Since that time he has played extensively in both concerted works and as a recitalist. He has travelled in both the United States and Europe. Although he was trained in the romantic and classical schools of piano literature he has developed a considerable sympathy for 20th century music.

He has recently recorded music by Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Scarlatti and Mussorgsky.

I will attempt to sum up. Foss aficionados will require both the Scott Dunn and the Daniel Beliavsky versions. The Beliavsky edition has the benefit of presenting the works in strict chronological order. The Dunn account has a slightly warmer tone to the recording. The Beliavsky disc has a fascinating interview between composer and his interpreter. The Naxos recording has more detailed programme notes; however Beliavsky provides a personal essay. And as for the timings – well it depends whether we want a rather laid-back interpretation or a slightly more frenetic approach. And it then comes down to whether we believe that the composer is always right about the interpretation of his own works.

If push comes to shove I would probably recommend the present CD – however having listened to these piano works a number of times I am probably dropping into the aficionado bracket and require both recordings.

It resolves down to my late father’s contention that no-one makes and markets a bad single malt. It all comes down to preference and taste.

And one last note. What date was the Passacaglia composed? Beliavsky suggests 1941 and Scott Dunn plumps for 1940.

John France

Postscript to the Lukas Foss Complete Piano Music Reviews

Scott Dunn on Naxos 8.559179  

Daniel Beliavsky on Sonata Bop 001

I have had the benefit of discussions with Daniel Beliavsky about a few issues I raised on my reviews of the ‘Complete Piano Music of Lukas Foss’ by himself and Scott Dunn.

I made a comment there that this was not the complete ‘works for piano’ by this composer. I had noticed in the Foss catalogue that there were two works mentioned which were not recorded.

The early Sonatina was probably composed between 1935 and 1938 and was never published. It is now lost. Apparently Lukas Foss’ house was destroyed by fire in the 1960s resulting in the loss of many precious manuscripts and a number of his wife’s painting. Foss seems to think that the Sonatina was amongst those scores lost.

The second piece I mentioned as being omitted from both recordings is the Tango. This is also unpublished, but copies of the manuscript have survived. However, when Beliavsky proposed the recording project, Foss was adamant that the Tango was not included as a part of it. No clear reason was given. However the composer did suggest that as the work was in fact a transcription of a movement from the Curriculum Vitae Suite for Accordion it was not actually part of the catalogue of pieces composed for piano!

And finally, I noted a discrepancy between dates given for the composition of the Passacaglia. Scott Dunn on Naxos had plumped for 1940 whereas Beliavsky on Sonata Bop had opted for 1941.

Daniel pointed out that the year he gave for this work was the date of publication as was his policy for all the other works recorded. However in the case of the Fantasy Rondo, this was composed in 1944 but not published until 1946. Apparently Lukas Foss does not accurately recall the dates of actual composition – so the use of the publication date may be the best solution. Bearing in mind the tragic loss of holographs noted above this is possibly the only means of dating works open to musicologists.

 

John France.




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