If you have been collecting the burgeoning ‘American
series on Naxos then the name of Kenneth Fuchs will
not be new to you. He is one of America’s leading middle generation
of composers. For example you may have come across his beautiful ‘Canticle
to the Sun’ (Naxos
). There are other orchestral and choral works dotted about
the catalogue (Naxos
) and Albany has also recorded him: a disc of String Quartets
2, 3 and 4 (TROY480).
The present disc begins with Falling Canons
solo piano. It is magically played by the amazingly versatile Christopher
O’Riley also known as a jazz pianist and radio and TV presenter
It was after reading the novel by Don DeLeilo ‘Falling Man’
which took as its starting point a figure walking out of the rubble
of 9/11 that Fuchs was moved to write a major work. This book stood
as a starting point for a song-cycle for baritone and orchestra, ‘Falling
Man’. Once finished Fuchs, like other composers before him, discovered
that some of the musical material and some of the philosophical ideas
behind the piece needed to be further developed, hence this work, especially
written for O’Riley.
Put simply, there are seven canons beginning on a B. The first is at
the octave, the second pitched on A is at the second, the third pitched
on G is at the third and so on. In addition, for example, canon 4 is
in 4/2 canon, 5 in 5/8 canon, 6 in 6/8 and so forth. The Falling
theme used from the song-cycle is the one deployed in this piano
work. Although it seems to start in a somewhat cerebral manner it develops
movingly and mysteriously to make a satisfying and thoughtful overall
This disc also includes a Piano Trio entitled Falling Trio
which is also a set of seven variations and is from the same stable
as ‘Falling Canons’. The clear and interesting booklet notes
by the composer tell us that the introductory Falling Man
is based again on B then “the subsequent variations are based
on a successive ascending
scalar passages” the opposite
to the piano piece. This time these play without a break and so are
not separately tracked. The language is often atonal and contrasted
with the more aggressive and brittle moments there are two beautiful
“reconciliatory” passages in a more romantic and diatonic
vein in an attempt to “to reconcile the work’s tonal and
non-tonal language”. I found the trio very moving right from the
start and its length is just ideal for its material. The performance
is given by the group, Trio21, which commissioned and first played it.
What we hear has the complete feeling of total authority, both technically
In between these two items comes the much longer String Quartet No.
subtitled rather bravely, bearing in the mind the famous Dvořák
quartet, ‘American’. Like the Dvořák it is in
four movements but there the similarities end as these have a variety
of tempo alterations within them. How does a composer have something
different to say in this form, which is already clogged up with too
much great music?
In his first movement Fuchs adopts a concise sonata-form, the second
subject of which is to be developed, alongside his Falling Man
theme in the lyrically desolate and slow third movement. In between
comes a skittish Scherzo. The exciting finale is a clever double fugue.
The opening theme of the quartet is deliberately spacious and open and,
as the composer readily admits, typically American in a Coplandish way.
It possesses a beautiful lyrical line as a secondary idea after about
70 seconds. The writing is always attractive and idiomatic. As a whole
there is an individuality about this music which makes one want to return
to the work … and to hear the other four quartets. This is the
highlight of the CD. The Delray Quartet were the commissioners and first
performers. They clearly understand exactly what Fuchs’ intentions
are. No composer could want more.
Apparently another disc of Kenneth Fuchs’s music is to appear
next year on Naxos and will have the orchestral Falling Man
as its highlight.