Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Perform Alum Lukas Foss

In a way, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates one of its own with this release. Lukas Foss was music director of the BPO from 1963-1970. But I say "in a way" because none of the works here date from his tenure with the orchestra. 

Foss was a classmate of Leonard Bernstein. Like Bernstein, he was an equally adept pianist, conductor, and composer. And like Bernstein he created his own musical style. It steered clear of academia and was clear, concise, and accessible. 

Bernstein considered him a genius. Yet Foss never quite achieved the recognition of Copland or Bernstein. And that's a shame. If you like those composers, you should enjoy Foss. Heck, if you enjoy Samuel Barber, Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, David Diamon, or even Morton Gould -- you should like Lukas Foss.

The works presented here show Foss' mastery of orchestration. Symphony No. 1 from 1944 mixes instruments together in unusual ways. The result is a rich and fresh color palette. The Three American Pieces also date from 1944. Originally written for violin and piano, Foss orchestrated them in 1989.

This is American music in the Copland vein. But at no point does Foss imitate Copland. Rather, both composers seemed to draw from the same sources of inspiration. And both have their own take on those common sources.

My personal favorite was the Renaissance Concerto for flute and orchestra. The title of this 1985 work is a little deceptive. The first movement uses "The Carman's Whistle," a tune from Tudor England. However the other two movements are based on early Baroque compositions. No matter -- it's not about authenticity but mood. Foss evokes an earlier time with modern instruments and modern harmonies. I think it's terrific.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra performs to its usual high standards. JoAnn Falletta's direction is both insightful and illuminating. These artists do a great service to Foss' music. The entire album is both engaging and emotionally rewarding. I hope Faletta and the BPO continue to explore this neglected composer's works. 

Lukas Foss: Symphony No. 1
Renaissance Concerto; Three American Pieces; Ode
Amy Porter, flute; Nikki Chooi, violin
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Naxos 8.559938

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