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Lukas Foss: Curriculum Vitae

Foss / Columbia String Quartet
Release Date: 04/13/2010 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80703-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Lukas Foss
Performer:  Guy KlucevsekJan WilliamsYvar MikhashoffRobert Dick,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Buffalo Percussion Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FOSS String Quartet No. 3 1. Music for 6 2. Curriculum Vitae. 3 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird 4 1 Columbia String Quartet; 2 University of Buffalo Perc Ens; 3 Guy Klucevsek (acc); 4 RoseMarie Read more Freni (mez); 4 Robert Dick (fl); 4 Jan Williams (perc); Yvar Mikhashoff (pn) NEW WORLD 80703-2 (62:23)

A discussion about the work for solo accordion, Curriculum Vitae , is a good place to start here, as it makes sense of the rest of this program of challenging, exciting music from the late phase of the compositional career of Lukas Foss, who died in 2009 at the age of 87. The eclecticism of the piece mirrors the surprisingly diverse output of Foss and makes poignant biographical references, including a quote from the Nazi anthem, symbolic of the Foss family’s escape from Europe in 1937. There are also snippets of Brahms and Mozart, alluding, perhaps, to Foss’s German origins, but also the staples of his illustrious conducting career. And then there is the wilder side of the piece, delivered with boisterous joy by the wonderful Guy Klucevsek, who is given license to indulge in some improvisation. That’s the tie-in to the audaciousness of this work’s woolier brethren.

The String Quartet No. 3, from 1976, is a minimalist tour de force in one movement. It opens with a dark, oscillating pattern not unlike whale song, and proceeds with a rhythmic pulse of Xenakis-like complexity. Another influence is surely Terry Riley, specifically his landmark In C , which allows for, no, depends on, the improvisatory contribution of the players. Foss tests the listener’s patience with a strange monotony, and then, shortly before the end of this more than 20-minute work, explodes into a coda of extraordinary vigor and rich texture. He has one more surprise, ending this knotty and harmonically dense work with a big C-Major chord. I took it as a sucker punch; it spoiled the aura of the preceding delightful cacophony. Other listeners may well relish the irony.

Music for Six , from 1978, is another minimalist essay, with a title and a compositional style that clearly honors Steve Reich (I’m thinking of his masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians ). Foss does not specify his instrumentation, allowing for anything in the treble range. This percussion ensemble fits the bill beautifully, and completes the tip of the hat to Reich. In true minimalist fashion, the work is more about soundscape and texture than about melodic development or dynamism. Foss does not command the sense of timelessness that Reich masters, pushing the material in such a way as to reveal mechanisms that Reich makes invisible, but this is a shimmering, even hypnotic work that I anticipate returning to, especially given this superb performance.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird , from 1978, is a setting of the Wallace Stevens poem of the same name. The scoring is beautifully evocative of the poetic subject matter, with virtuosic flute passages taking the avian voice, piano, and a large and mainly delicate percussion battery with Asian influences. The percussionist achieves many effects on and inside the piano, with strummed open strings a prominent sound. The vocal writing is as much declamative as melodic, but the words are shaped with great precision and respect for the poetry.

This is all powerful and unexpected stuff. If the mention of the music of Lukas Foss puts you in mind of the American populism of his friends Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, this album will twist your head around.

FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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Works on This Recording

String Quartet No 3 by Lukas Foss
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; United States of Ame 
Venue:  New York City 
Length: 21 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Music for Six for any six treble clef instruments by Lukas Foss
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Buffalo Percussion Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1978; United States of Ame 
Venue:  New York City 
Length: 16 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Curriculum Vitae, for accordion by Lukas Foss
Performer:  Guy Klucevsek (Accordion)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1977; United States of Ame 
Venue:  New York City 
Length: 7 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Lukas Foss
Performer:  Jan Williams (Percussion), Yvar Mikhashoff (Piano), Robert Dick (Flute),
Rosemarie Freni ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1978 
Venue:  New York City 
Length: 16 Minutes 23 Secs. 

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