March 9, 2009

The German-born, American composer Lukas Foss passed away several weeks ago after a long and distinguished career. Here is a recent recording of WWII-era work that is accessible yet complex, a delightful piece that truly deserves this high quality digital recording. I am glad to be back: enjoy.

Foss’ youthful (1941-42) Carl Sandburg cantata brought him to early prominence, taken up by Koussevitsky, Shaw and Rodzinski. As unfashionable and vaguely anachronistic as both text and music may have come to be seen in subsequent decades, there is absolutely no need to apologize for this bold, bracing and thoroughly likable piece, brashly comfortable in its wide-eyed tonal idiom. The most obvious influence on the young composer in the music’s open harmonies and textures, its invigorating outdoor qualities, is of course Copland; Stravinsky is also in evidence, and admirers of Virgil Thomson (who in turn admired the piece) will also find kindred inflections. Setting a Sandburg text, replete with that peculiarly naïve knowingness unique to that most American of authors, should, and does here, invoke an instantly assimilable, but resonantly thought-provoking reaction. Foss’ elegant uncluttered style is the ideal foil to Sandburg’s direct address to his audience; the result is a wholly convincing amalgam of refinement and rough-hewn nobility. Texts included. Elizabeth Weigle (soprano), Gigi Mitchell-Velasco (mezzo), Frank Kelley (tenor), Aaron Engebreth (baritone), Providence Singers, Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Andrew Clark.