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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

American composer has come – yet how constant he has remained – since his student days in the 1970s. The earliest cycle, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, setting poems by William Blake, bears traces of Britten, down to the presence of a text the British composer set in his own cycle, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

Although he writes in a tonal style that occasionally resembles Britten’s aesthetic, Fuchs claims his own expressive warmth and colour. Words are always discernible, a manifestation both of graceful and urgent shaping of vocal lines and judicious orchestration. Fuchs’s Blake songs (1977) are brief and full of telling incident; the text in the final piece, ‘The Tyger’, is declaimed partly in Sprechstimme fashion.

Like the Blake cycle, Movie House (2007), setting poems by John Updike, is scored for baritone and chamber ensemble. Here, too, Fuchs conjures glowing evocations of the words while adding atmosphere and nuance through a small contingent of instruments.

The aura is more dramatic, as it naturally would be, in Falling Man (2009-10), a series of interludes and arias (to texts by Don DeLillo, from his 2007 novel of the same name) about the experiences of a 9/11 survivor. Amid Brittenesque lyricism, Fuchs musters ferocity and pungency as the tragedy unfolds.

The performances are exemplary, from baritone Roderick Williams’s commanding artistry to the bold, fresh playing of the London Symphony Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta’s sensitive direction. Donald Rosenberg

Hatzis  Flute Concertos – Departures; Overscript Patrick Gallois fl Thessaloniki State  Symphony Orchestra / Alexandre Myrat  Naxos Canadian Classics B 8 573091 (72’ • DDD)

The charismatic French flautist and conductor Patrick Gallois, whose work has enriched the Naxos catalogue in a wide variety of repertoire since his move from DG in 1991, provided the impetus for this flautist’s dream of a recording when in 2000 he inquired of the Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, ‘Have you composed anything for the flute?’ The first result was the premiere a year later of the Greek composer’s Concerto for flute and chamber orchestra (1993), performed by Gallois and an ensemble of faculty and students at the University of Toronto where Hatzis teaches. When Hatzis wrote Departures in 2011, the idea of recording both three-movement flute concertos, totaling more than 70 minutes, quickly became a fait accompli.

The gently affectionate first two movements of Departures, dedicated to director George Bloomfield, whose credits included the Muppets’ television series Fraggle Rock, and Bertha Modlich, an inspirational Toronto cultural icon who had recently passed away at the age of 105, set the stage for the finale, ‘Progress Blues’, an initially lyrical but increasingly distracted response to the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster, which ends with a tremendous audiophile explosion. The earlier concerto, which was reworked in 2012 and renamed Overscript for this recording, is a meandering meditation described by the composer as a ‘palimpsest and musical commentary’ on Bach’s Flute Concerto BWV1056, highlighted by a deeply absorbing 20-minute slow movement.

Gallois plays brilliantly and almost continuously throughout both concertos, sympathetically partnered by the Thessaloniki orchestra with its silky strings and poetic woodwinds (particularly bassoonist Georgios Politis), conducted by Alexandre Myrat, its Music Director since 2011. Laurence Vittes

M Monk  .  Salzman  M Monk Basket Rondo Salzman Jukebox in the Tavern of Love The Western Wind Vocal Ensemble  Labor F LAB7094 (48’ • DDD)

It may be hard to believe that The Western Wind has been blowing its vibrant brand of a cappella artistry since 1969. What’s just as impressive is the range of the ensemble’s repertoire, from Renaissance music to works created expressly for the vocal sextet. The group’s newest recording reflects the authority with which these top-flight musicians handle whatever score they encounter.

Both pieces were devised in collaboration with the composers, Meredith Monk and Eric Salzman, whose respective works pose different challenges for The Western Wind. Monk’s Basket Rondo is a cascade of swirling lines that demands the kind of virtuosity only the most skilled singers could achieve. The piece is divided into what Monk calls ‘baskets’ and ‘bells’, with a few ‘calls’ to send the voices into the exultant stratosphere.

Salzman takes advantage of the ensemble’s versatility and vocal gifts in Jukebox in the Tavern of Love, a ‘madrigal comedy’ with a libretto by Valeria Vasilevski. Set in a New York bar, the narrative introduces a series of characters (bartender, nun, dancer, rabbi, poet, utility worker), each of whom tells a story as the remaining observers react in Greek-chorus mode.

The score is a delicious stew of musical styles, showing Salzman’s range as a composer and his ability to tickle the funny bone (with thanks to Vasilevski’s droll text). It’s a tour de force for the intrepid members of The Western Wind, who are as suave in the Renaissance-inspired material as they are swinging in Salzman’s jazzy concoctions. Donald Rosenberg

Small  The Rothko Room: Journeys in Silence. Visions of Childhood. A Glimpse of Silence Haskell Small pf  MSR Classics F MS1497 (53’ • DDD)

There is more than enough silence and space in the 30 minutes of Haskell Small’s The

Rothko Room to amply satisfy the aesthetic principles which guided the painter’s work. Triggered by Tate Modern’s 2008 Mark Rothko exhibition in which many of the ‘Red’ series were positioned in a single room (the same that inspired John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play), Small’s moving musical narrative also contains plenty of noise and room – what the composer calls ‘animation and passion’. Reflected in the lights and shades of a harmonic ambience occasionally if fleetingly redolent of late Beethoven, the music periodically resolves into childlike purity during four continuous sections ‘limning the life of Rothko himself’. After more than 20 minutes of abstract beauty, the piece concludes with a section inspired by the last scene in Logan’s play, in which Small bathes his musical canvas in multiple, pulsating lights leading to Rothko’s last struggles with mental illness, a haunted polonaise representing the artist’s last burst of creativity, a suicidal draining of blood, and final silence.

Both the 11 short sections of Visions of Childhood, evoking Robert Schumann and Federico Mompou (Small has also recorded the latter’s mystical meditation on silence, Música callada), and the eight minutes of Glimpses of Silence show the 66-year-old composer working with materials that gramophone.co.uk

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