Lukas FOSS (1922-2009)
The Prairie (1943) [53:02]
Elizabeth Weigle (soprano); Gigi Mitchell-Velasco (mezzo); Frank Kelly (tenor); Aaron Engebreth (baritone)
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Andrew Clark
rec. 15 March 2007, Mechanics Hall, Worcester MA, USA. DDD
BMOP/SOUND 1007 [53:02]
The Prairie is a setting of an epic poem by Carl Sandburg, which falls into seven short movements. The quality of sound in this recording is immediately striking, as is the quality of the performance, from both soloists and orchestra.
This is one of Foss’s earliest works, and one which had an important impact on the start of his career. The compositional style is unquestionably American, capturing the spirit of Copland and combining it with the European influence of Hindemith and Stravinsky. The orchestration is imaginative and supports the soloists well. The overall compositional style is full of optimism and energy.
The piece makes use of repeated melodic figures and a simple, well defined tonal language, giving a sense of unity between the movements but never becoming stale. Foss’s approach to instrumental writing is to treat them as voices, and the resultant effect is a rich texture of melodic lines and colours.
Foss was not originally American, but moved to Philadelphia in 1937 with his family at the age of 15 in order to escape Nazi Germany. He embraced American culture and made it his own, creating a distinctive voice for himself as an American composer. There are certain modernist elements to The Prairie, which are especially evident in the more dramatic moments, such as in the last part of the fourth movement, When the Red and the White Men Met. In these moments, one gets the sense of a young composer emerging from tradition with innovative ideas and an individual approach.
The opening movement serves as a prologue, setting the scene and describing the landscape. Frank Kelly’s tenor voice is arresting here, with a beautiful tone and expressive phrasing. Folk-inspired material takes centre-stage towards the middle of the work, making use of open harmony based on fourths and fifths. A prolonged oboe solo evokes shepherds, and sparse orchestration accompanies the haunting soprano solo, O Prairie Girl. A dramatic orchestral interlude introduces the final song, which looks towards the future with an optimistic but at times solemn outlook. The end of the work is punchy and energetic, with syncopated rhythms, bright instrumentation and driving forward movement. This forms the main climax of the work, and this recording is both exhilarating and dramatic.
Sandburg’s text was adapted by Foss to suit his plan for the music, broken into songs and at times re-ordered from the original. However, the poem has a strong identity, and there are some beautifully evocative lines.
This is an excellent recording which captures the essence of the work very well.
An excellent recording which captures the essence of the work very well.