Fuchs: Piano Concerto "Spiritualist" (CD review)

Also, Poems of Life; Glacier; Rush. Jeffrey Biegel, piano; JoAnn Falletta, London Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.559824.

The contemporary American composer, conductor, and professor of composition Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956) has been writing music for several decades now and has made over a dozen recordings, five of the last six with JoAnn Falletta and the London Symphony. His works include music for orchestra, band, chorus, and various chamber ensembles and differ in genre from classical to popular. More important, for those worried that any modern composer is inevitably going to annoy them with dissonant, discordant, unharmonic, atonal notes they don't understand and don't enjoy, be assured that Mr. Fuchs's music is charmingly melodious and approachable.

The four works represented on the present album are all world-première recordings, the first one, the Piano Concerto "Spiritualist" from 2016 featuring American pianist Jeffrey Biegel and inspired by three paintings by Helen Frankenthaler. The music is fresh and vigorously pursued by Biegel and Falletta. Although it may not have enough in it to make it truly memorable, it has enough flair to pass an agreeable twenty minutes or so. The second, slow movement is particularly graceful and serene in its outer sections, growing more agitated and turbulent in the middle before settling back into a quiet rest. Taken on its own, it might be worth the price of the whole album.

JoAnn Falletta
The second work on the disc, Poems of Life (2017), is an orchestral song cycle for countertenor (Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, countertenor) and orchestra (including solos by Tim Hugh, cello, and Christine Pendrill, English horn) based on twelve poems by Judith G. Wolf from her book Otherwise. The composer tells us that love, loss, and "emotional transformation" are the themes of these poems. Fans of vocal music will, I'm sure, find them well performed, although I found them mostly too melancholy and depressing for my pedestrian taste.

The next work is called Glacier (2015), a concerto for electric guitar (D.J. Sparr, electric guitar) and orchestra. Fuchs says he based each of its five movements on the natural elements of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. These are powerful reflections, ranging in mood from tranquil to mysterious to majestic, all of them colorful and picturesque. You don't get many (any?) classical concertos for electric guitar, but this one seems to do it justice. It may be a good crossover piece for fans of pop-rock guitar to hear just how versatile the instrument can be. Again, wonderfully entertaining and well executed, with elements of Rodrigo along the way, and probably my favorite complete work on the disc.

The program concludes with Rush (2012), another concerto, this one for alto saxophone (Timothy McAllister, alto sax) and orchestra. It alternates a jazzy, up-tempo, band-like mood with a more bluesy tone. While it's fun if somewhat inconsequential, it does prove the considerable and multiple talents of Ms. Falletta, Mr. McAllister, and the LSO.

Producer Tim Handley and engineer Jonathan Allen recorded the music at Abbey Road Studio 1, London in August 2017. With a shelf full of Grammy awards for producer Handley, and with Abbey Road Studio 1 being like a second home to the LSO, it's no wonder the sonic results are so good. The hall resonance is mild but still pronounced enough to lend the music a lifelike, sometimes enveloping air. The entire experience, soloists and orchestra, appears just a tad close, but with it comes a nice clarity, with percussion especially well rendered. The stereo spread is wide and the depth of image moderate. It's a fine, modern recording.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa