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Fuchs: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Wilson

Fuchs: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Wilson

Chandos  CHSA 5296

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Fuchs: Cloud Slant, Solitary the Thrush*, Pacific Visions, Quiet in the Land

Adam Walker* (flute)
Sinfonia of London
John Wilson (conductor)


The Grammy-Award-winning Kenneth Fuchs (born 1956) is without doubt one of American music’s leading orchestral composers. His orchestral output has grown and developed to encompass a wide range of genres, from overtures and tone poems to suites and concertos (ten to date, including ones for string quartet, electric guitar, and piano, the last entitled Spiritualist), inspired by a diverse range of subjects, testimony to his wide sympathies and fields of knowledge. His output includes chamber music (including five string quartets), solos and duos, vocal and choral music, and four chamber musicals. Cloud Slant is a virtuoso orchestral concerto based on three canvasses by Helen Frankenthaler: Blue Fall (1966), Flood (1967), and Cloud Slant (1968) – not just musical depictions of them but also the composer’s reactions to their artistic sweep and power.

The flute was Fuchs’ first instrument, so it was inevitable that he would compose a flute concerto. However, it was not until 2019 that he set about the task – for the flautist Peg Luke, to whom the concerto is dedicated. As is customary of compositions by this composer, the concerto carries a descriptive title, Solitary the Thrush, a reference to lines from Whitman’s elegy for Abraham Lincoln, 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d'. Commissioned by the Californian Musique Sur La Mer Orchestras, Pacific Visions is scored for string orchestra, and is a single, dynamic movement sub-divided into five sections. Quiet in the Land, a Poem for Orchestra, is a revision of a chamber work which Fuchs composed in 2003, inspired by the rolling prairie of the Midwestern United States and the ‘immense arching sky’ under which it sits, cast against the impact of the Second Gulf War which had then recently broken out. The orchestral version heard here was composed in 2017 for the Phoenix Symphony. The album was recorded in Surround Sound, and is available as a Hybrid SACD and in Spatial Audio.

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Review by Graham Williams - July 26, 2023

For their latest release, John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London begin a series of recordings featuring the music of the contemporary American composer Kenneth Fuchs (b.1956). Each of the four works on this beautifully recorded Chandos SACD epitomize the wide range of this composer’s oeuvre, his undoubted mastery of orchestral colour and the sheer beauty of his tonal writing.

Up to now the torch for Fuchs’s orchestral music on disc has been carried by the conductor JoAnn Falletta in an impressive series of five albums on CD with the London Symphony Orchestra for Naxos, so it is gratifying that now, thanks to Chandos and John Wilson, more of the composer’s output will be recorded in high resolution sound.

The first item on this SACD is the première recording ‘Cloud Slant’, a spectacular ‘Concerto for Orchestra ‘after Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler’ who died in 2011 and whose abstract expressionistic canvasses have inspired a number of the composer’s works. The paintings that provide the titles for the concerto’s three sections that are played without a break are ‘Blue Fall’, ‘Flood’ and ‘Cloud Slant’. Starting with a dazzling splash of orchestral colour (Fuchs describes it as an “aural frisson”) we begin a captivating journey through a work full of changing textures and lyrical lines in which the composer uses his orchestral palette with absolute mastery and considerable imagination to entrance any receptive listener. As the piece was written ‘for John Wilson and Sinfonia of London, in warm friendship’ it comes as no surprise that their performance is superb, with the players of the Sinfonia of London relishing all the virtuosic opportunities the music provides.

Equally imaginative is Fuchs’s ‘Concerto for C and Alto Flute and Orchestra’ whose title ‘Solitary the Thrush’ refers to lines from Walt Whitman’s' poem ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d' written in memory of Abraham Lincoln.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)

Though cast in one continuous movement this entrancing work breaks down into four contrasting sections in which the soloist alternates between the standard flute and the darker toned alto instrument. Adam Walker is a wonderful player and the combination of his peerless technique, finesse and exceptional virtuosity makes for a memorable account of this poignant concerto.

‘Pacific Visions’ is written for String Orchestra and was composed for Musique Sur La Mer Orchestras, Long Beach, California. Though lasting just over eight minutes it is an immensely appealing piece and given a winning performance here, thanks to both the players exuberant energy and the manner in which the wide soundstage and clarity of the vivid Chandos recording emphasises the interplay between the various string sections.

The Poem for Orchestra ‘Quiet in the Land’, composed for the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra in 2017, opens in a pastoral mood with gorgeously lyrical writing. Gradually the mood darkens leading to the appearance of a dramatic and militaristic section with pounding drums and brass fanfares; a reference to the invasion of Iraq that had recently begun when the piece was first conceived in 2003 as a chamber work and before its recomposition for full orchestra. Eventually the tumult subsides, calm is restored and the Poem ends quietly, though not before distant echoes of war are heard once again. Fuchs has written that his music communicates emotions with clearly articulated gestures that can be understood on first hearing, and this is as true about this work as the other three on this compelling disc.

The Chandos team of Ralph Couzens (Recording engineer) and Brian Pidgeon (Producer) have worked their usual magic in the Church of St Augustine, Kilburn and given us a recording that is as well balanced and alive as is the splendid playing.

Without question, an enthusiastic recommendation is warranted.

Copyright © 2023 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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