Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956)
Orchestral Works, Volume 1
Cloud Slant (after Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler) – Concerto for Orchestra
Solitary the Thrush – Concerto for C and Alto Flute and Orchestra
Pacific Visions (in One Movement) for String Orchestra
Quiet in the Land – Poem for Orchestra
Adam Walker (flute), Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
rec. 2022, Church of St Augustine, Kilburn, London, UK
Chandos CHSA5296 SACD [59]

As a biographical place-holder we should note that Kenneth Fuchs is a composition professor at the University of Connecticut. He studied at Juilliard, where he numbered Milton Babbitt, David Diamond and Vincent Persichetti among his teachers. As represented on this Chandos disc – the first of an orchestral series – Fuchs is no serialist quack nor is he a practitioner in dodecaphonic devilry. The scores, as heard here in gloriously deep-staged and brilliant sound, are awash with oxygen and rich in melody.  The players and conductor are celebrities and their playing is of a piece with that hard-won status.

I remember the glamour that hung around Charles Gerhardt and his Sidney Sax-organised National Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1970s. Much the same applies here with John Wilson and his orchestra. Each year since the mid-2000s they have astonished and rejoiced the Prommers and radio and TV listeners/viewers with film and theatre music.  Chandos have scored a bit of a coup by enlisting them for a whole series of concert music CDs.

Fuchs’ music has already attracted sustained allegiance from Naxos and in this he has been fortunate: review ~ review ~ review ~ review. The mastery and sheen of his music demand, and in this Chandos disc receive, the highest in skill and percipience. The Chandos team are Brian Pidgeon, Ralph Couzens and Alexander James.

Having tried to intimate what his music is not, how can I further convey some impression of what it is? The sound style of these four pieces, written between 2016 and 2021, is inviting; there are few complexities of texture. The scores are oxygen-rich and their skies are blue Californian or Mid-West vaults. The explosion of cornflower blue is that of Hockney’s A bigger splash and almost has you reaching for the aural equivalent of Ray-Bans. His sound signature is stable and uniform without being tedious. Allowing for passing echoes of others, like Martinů, he has his own sound and you can almost hear him intoning his article of faith: to thine own self be true.

The first piece is a concerto for orchestra in three movements: Cloud Slant (2020-2021). Impressions flood in: a Bernstein brilliance, succulent softness, very exposed Britten-like writing, as in the Grimes Interludes. It’s all superbly recorded: alert marching rhythmic episodes, the impression of zinging clear rain, a clean light crash, great sweeping romance, suddenly rushing ecstatic horns (2.09 tr 2). –  one of those big wide-yawning Golden Gate melodies.

In the one-movement Flute Concerto (Solitary the Thrush) we have a garrulous thrush whooping it up – a strutting cock of the rock. The music chirps and dives. A single movement it may be, but it has multiform episodes. Cinematographic kaleidoscope of colours and its own tackle on the words of that piece by Per Nørgård Voyage into the golden screen. The orchestra can hardly contain itself and the hiccups and feathery flurries and bleats explode into the fantastic brilliance of the writing in Britten’s orchestral song cycle Our Hunting fathers. The episodes (not separately tracked) are: ‘Solitary the thrush’; ‘The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements’; ‘Sings by himself a song’; ‘Song of the bleeding throat’; ‘Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know, If thou wast not granted to sing thou would”st surely die)’; ‘Walt Whitman, Memories of President Lincoln (‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’)’. Adam Walker squares up to and gives voice in this Concerto for C and Alto Flute and Orchestra – a piece that has some of the orgasmic brilliance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Mavis in Las Vegas

After all that luxuriance, the next piece is for string orchestra. The Pacific Visions is a fine score with some echoes of Dag Wirén and, typical of this composer, a tender melodic curvature. Back to the full orchestra for the ‘Poem’ that is Quiet In The Land. Its essence lies in poise and calm. I wondered how well it would work in a concert preceding Samuel Barber’s Knoxville. It has something of the same ambience that invokes the quiet of great cosmic distances. Its Cadillac-cool, suggestion of plush high-end vehicles and lives, of rolling prairie and an immensely arching sky (Guy Rickards’ words) give a sense of well-being. For excitement there are rushing orchestral exclamations redolent of those in William Alwyn’s first symphony and his last.

The booklet notes are by Guy Rickards – so we are in safe hands – and are in English, German and French. They tell us much of what we need to know. Even so, I would have liked a lot more about what the music meant to the composer, a fuller biographical setting and what stung Fuchs into creating the music.

Fuchs has a brilliant tonal voice and here it is heard through a medium that equates to un-smeared dustless glass.

Rob Barnett

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