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Kenneth FUCHS (b. 1956)
An American Place (2004) [18:44]
Eventide - concerto for english horn, harp, percussion and string orchestra (1980s) [21:24]
Out of the Dark, suite for chamber orchestra after Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler (1980s) [15:09]
Thomas Stacey (cor anglais) (Eventide)
Timothy Jones (French horn) (Out of the Dark)
London Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. St Luke's, Finsbury, London, 6-7 September 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.559224 [55:16]
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Kenneth Fuchs lists as his teachers Babbitt, Diamond and Persichetti. His An American Place, according to the composer, is 'intended to suggest the rich body of music created by the American symphonists who have come before me and from whom I continue to take inspiration'. JoAnn Falletta, the conductor of this disc, directed the world premiere of this piece with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 2005. The latter section ('Finale scherzando') suggests the 'brash optimism of the American spirit'.

The work emerges from a slow, rumbly opening. Don't they all?, says the cynic in me, but what emerges thereafter is evidence of a fertile aural imagination. Fuchs’ voice is confident, often glittering with some nods towards the minimalists. He explores darker regions later in the piece. There is the impression of Fuchs setting out his orchestral palette.

Eventide, a Concerto for English horn (or cor anglais to use the European term) is more interesting, despite the razzle-dazzle of An American Place. It is stunningly played by Thomas Stacy (cor anglais to the NYPO), whose smooth, round tone is perfect for this crepuscular exercise. Stacy is astonishingly accurate in the faster passages but it is in the more evocative sections that he excels. Intrinsically American in sound-world, this is an interesting piece that is, in the final analysis, a touch long. Worth hearing for Stacy's multiphonics, though. He manages to persuade us that this is no mere trick but a real expressive device in its own right - more often than not they just sound embarrassing!

Out of the Dark is subtitled, 'Suite for Chamber Orchestra After Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler'. It is one of these paintings that adorns the cover of the disc ('Summer Banner' of 1968). The third movement takes this as its starting point; the other two are based on 'Heart of November' and 'Out of the Dark'. Frankenthaler's abstract expressionism implies to Fuchs a progression from tension to resolution, a concept he has transferred to his music - not uniquely, it has to be said.

The first movement, 'Heart of November' has a Bartókian slant. Superbly played all round, special mention should go to the soloist Timothy Jones, the LSO's principal horn player, who gives the long, evocative melodies with real affection. The frozen, fragmentary 'Out of the Dark' is the most impressive movement sonically, and the piece then moves straight in to the final 'Summer Banner', where Jones' horn playing reaches a climax of improbable smoothness - what slurs! The movement itself is evocative of large, open spaces.

Well worth investigating. Fuchs is a composer who is new to me, and it has been interesting to spend 55 minutes 16 seconds in his presence.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Tim Perry



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