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Fuchs: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Wilson

Fuchs: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Wilson

Chandos  CHSA 5326

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Timothy McAllister (saxophone)
James Buckle (trombone)
Sinfonia of London
John Wilson (conductor)


Sinfonia of London’s second album of works of Kenneth Fuchs features four world première recordings. Two of the works feature soloists: the Bass Trombone Concerto loosely follows sonata form whilst utilising the full range of the instrument, and revelling in its lyrical side. Eventide, for alto saxophone and orchestra, is a re-working of an earlier concerto that Fuchs wrote for cor anglais. Described by the composer as a set of ‘fantasy variations based upon the simple triadic intervals typical of spirituals’, the alto saxophone version was composed for this album’s soloist, Tim McAllister. Point of Tranquility was originally composed for wind band, but Fuchs then prepared this orchestral version at the request of JoAnn Falletta for her Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece is inspired by Fuchs’s reaction to the eponymous painting by Morris Louis. The orchestral suite Light Year is also inspired by a series of paintings, these ones by Helen Frankenthaler. Cast in six movements, the extremely evocative work captures the breath-taking scale and mysterious nature of the universe. Light Year was composed for and dedicated to John Wilson and Sinfonia of London.

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Review by Graham Williams - June 14, 2024

The second volume in this Chandos series devoted to the orchestral music of the contemporary American composer Kenneth Fuchs (b.1956) proves to be as enjoyable as the first, and those attuned to Fuchs’ instantly accessible body of work will be entranced once more by the variety on offer here.

This immaculately recorded SACD opens with a performance of ‘Light year’ (2022-2024), a six movement suite for orchestra after six paintings by Helen Frankenthaler. It was composed shortly after the completion of ‘Cloud Slant’ the main work on the first Volume of this series that I reviewed in July 2023 Fuchs: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Wilson. While audibly similar to its predecessor in style and use of the orchestra ‘Light Year’ is more ambitious in both range and expression, taking the form of an orchestral suite each movement of which is inspired by one of the series of canvases which Frankenthaler painted between 1977 and 1990, and coalesce under the umbrella of stargazing. As the composer has written in the score ‘the music is, like the painting, intended to depict the experience of looking up in wonder at the night time sky full of stars’.

The titles of the six movements are ‘Star Gazing’, ‘Stella Polaris’, ‘Lunar Valley’, ‘Hot Ice’, ‘Constellation’ and ‘Light Year’ that may perhaps provide an indication of the composer’s febrile imagination and his characteristic iridescent orchestral textures on display here. As one might expect, John Wilson and his Sinfonia of London revel in the opportunities provided by the composer to project both the diversity and subtleties of Fuchs’ score to the receptive listener, aided of course by the superfine clarity of the Chandos recording.
Fuchs’ ingenious craftsmanship is further epitomized by the two contrasting concertos that follow.

‘Eventide’ is a concerto for Alto Saxophone and an orchestra of percussion, harp, celesta and strings. Originally written for the cor anglais in 2003 it was reworked for the alto saxophone twenty years later. As the title suggests, it is a predominantly pastoral work whose lyricism benefits from the marvellously fluent and sensitive account given here by the superb soloist Timothy McAllister.

Concertos for Bass Trombone are understandably thin on the ground, but this 2018 composition from Kenneth Fuchs will make a welcome addition to this instrument’s limited repertoire. It is an exuberant piece in a single movement, though in four clearly defined sections, that pits the bass trombone against the dazzling colours of Fuchs’ orchestral tapestry and is performed with considerable panache by the young British bass trombonist James Buckle.

For ‘Point of Tranquillity’, the final work on the disc, Fuchs’ inspiration stems from another painting. This time it is one from a contemporary of Helen Frankenthaler – Morris Louis (1912-1962). In this work Fuchs has aspired to match in musical terms the artist’s use of ‘vivid colour washes’ and ‘sense of structural freedom’. Though originally a work for wind band it was adapted for orchestra at the request of the conductor JoAnn Falletta, a long time champion of this composer’s music and it is this latter version performed on this disc
It is a haunting and melodic piece that flows with untroubled serenity, though interspersed by Fuchs’ characteristic splashes of colour and, as with all the works on this compelling disc, it receives a masterly and sympathetic reading from John Wilson and his accomplished players.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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