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Piano Music

Foss Audio CD

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Product Details


1. Scherzo Ricercato
2. Passacaglia
3. Grotesque Dance
4. Prelude In D
5. Fantasy Rondo
6. Introduction: Andante
7. Allegretto
8. Tranquillo Ma Mosso
9. Molto Vivace
10. For Lenny, Variation On 'New York, New York'
11. Solo

Product Description

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jazzy Neo-Classical Piano Music by Lukas Foss March 17 2005
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Lukas Foss (1922- ) was a close associate of Leonard Bernstein's over the years and their piano music sounds much alike. Foss himself was the piano soloist on the first recording of Bernstein's 'Age of Anxiety' symphony and fair made Bernstein's piano writing sit up and beg--some of the most engaging piano music of the 1940s. What we have here is a CD that contains all of Foss's solo piano music, from 'Grotesque Dance' of 1938 through to 'For Lenny, Variations on "New York, New York"' of 1987. It's all of a piece, fruit from the Stravinsky branch of the neoclassical tree with much more convincing jazz licks than Stravinsky ever wrote. What is amazing is how much some of it also sounds so reminiscent of Bernstein's 1940s jazzy music. Granted by the time he came to 'Solo' of 1981 there was a more astringent harmonic underpinning, but it is all in Foss's own voice.

'Scherzo Ricercato' (1954) combines Bachian fugato writing with perky neoclassic rhythmic displacements. It should be noted that Bach was also a huge influence on Foss's writing; indeed, his 'Phorion' (an orchestral piece) is his own considerable deconstruction of some of the master's music; it is witty and profound at the same time. 'Scherzo Ricercato' may not be profound, but it certainly is witty and fun. 'Passacaglia' (1940) is a blues number upon a ground bass. And it's lovely as well. 'Grotesque Dance,' (1938) was written when Foss was only sixteen and legend has it that he wrote it while riding a New York subway. Be that as it may, it is made up of off-beat accents, asymmetric phrase lengths and sweet-sour harmonies reminiscent of Prokofiev. 'Prelude in D' (1951) is a hauntingly melancholic jazz-tinged homage to all those arioso preludes in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

'Fantasy Rondo' (1944) is the only piece here that I didn't immediately fall for. It is indeed a fantasy with enough recurring material to qualify, I suppose, as a rondo, but it strikes me as too loosely organized and without sufficiently interesting material to hold one's interest for its nine-minute length. Perhaps if it had been tightened... 'Four Two-Part Inventions' (1938) are, of course, Bachian again and written in a Hindemithian counterpoint cum stride bass style. The counterpoint is not only excellent it somehow also manages to be both sassy and insouciantly touching. The fourth invention could almost have been written by Shostakovich, but with a jazz bass line thrown in.

'For Lenny, Variation on "New York, New York"' (1987) is, for me, the most successful thing here. I just love its habañera rhythm that supports a Lenny-esque loose-limbed jazz improvisation. One can picture Lenny sitting, with cigarette dangling, squinting against the smoke, and letting his imagination run. A shame it's only 2 1/2 minutes long. The disc closes out with the longest work, the 13-minute 'Solo' (1981) which nods in the direction of the then-newest thing in American music: minimalism. Somehow, though, it still sounds like Foss/Stravinsky/Bernstein. One factor in this is that the energy for forward motion comes from Bachian/neo-classical structures, not incessant repetition over slow harmonic motion. A tour de force.

Scott Dunn, a pianist new to me, treats the music with respect but also with a twinkle in his eye, which is precisely what this music requires. Nice job.

TT=54:43

[Addendum: I've just learned that there is another CD with precisely the same Foss pieces, plus an audio interview with Mr Foss, on the Sonatabop label (not available here at Amazon but from their own website) that features pianist Daniel Beliavsky. I have not heard it.]

Scott Morrison
5.0 out of 5 stars very fun March 18 2007
By Matthew Dayton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
In the "NPR Listener's Ecyclopedia of Classical Music", Ted Libbey describes Lukas Foss as "an eclectic's eclectic, a man who never met a style he didn't like, and never found a technique he couldn't use." The versatility of style in this cd, I think, demonstrates the truth of that summation. Each piece is pretty unique in terms of construction and where the musical interest lies, but you can tell they were all written by the same person.

My favorite piece(s) are the two-part inventions. Here, Foss shows his craftsmanship abilities with 20th century harmonic language. There's not really anywhere (for the performer or the composer) to hide when dealing with only two voices. Foss, like every other successful composer in the Western classical tradition, obviously learned well what Bach had to teach. After that, I'd say the Passacaglia and the Prelude in D are the most beautiful, if not quite as nakedly brilliant as the inventions. Of course, those are just my favorites, but there's not really a bad piece on the cd. The real joy of listening to this cd is searching for the new place of musical interest in each successive piece. You have to be paying close attention and be willing to shift your focus for pretty much every track. It's a very rewarding listening experience.

I also want to mention that my favorite thing about Foss as a composer is what he seems to get criticized for the most: his eccentric versatility. Like a previous reviewer said about the Scherzo, most of Foss's music is fun but not really profound. Leaving aside the question of how one quantifies profundity in art, I think that in music, writing works that performers want to play, music that is fun to play, is an important part of keeping any kind of musical tradition alive. It may not turn the culture on its head and start revolutions, but it's certainly not shallow or created to anaesthetize a mindless consumer culture. In fact, I believe music that inspires people to play it themselves, music that exposes the listener to a wide variety of interesting aspects in music, does just the opposite of the anesthetic. I think we should champion the twinkle in Scott Dunn's eye (as the previous reviewer put it) and admire the fun and joy with which Mr. Foss wrote this music, rather than merely remarking on its quaintness. But hey, that's just me.
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