This is an odd compilation in that it combines performances of Foss’ work by others with two by himself. I don’t really know why they aren’t all by himself, but whatever.
I was unfamiliar with Foss and I must say his music is interesting, if far less radical than the 20th century music I normally enjoy. That isn’t to say there isn’t radical music here, but it seems that Foss was on a mission similar to those jazz performers who are trying to fit free into it tradition: Foss isn’t outright atonal – at least very often – but he is obviously aware of the avant garde. (My untrained ear may deceive me but I’m pretty sure at least one of these pieces is serialist.)
So it took me a little while to notice his music was as out-there as it actually is. And I must say I admire a composer who is willing to embrace the idea of performing his own compositions multiple ways. That’s cool. So this is pretty great stuff, even if took a while for me to notice.
Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (1943)
This piece was apparently originally written for clarinet and orchestra and you can sort of get a sense why. The piece starts off in almost a neo baroque or neo medieval vein, but once the piano comes in, there’s a slight jazzy vibe to the piano (very slight) which I can clearly conceive of played by a clarinet.
In the Andante, I’m pretty sure I hear clarinets, so I guess it was going to be pretty clarinet-forward.
I have no musical training, so what I am about to say is a guess, but it does sound like there is a mix of tradition and more forward-thinking stuff, at least to my ears. There are parts of the concerto which sound extremely out of place for 1943 and other parts which sound quite contemporary. And I like that.
Concerto No.2 for Piano and Orchestra (1953)
This piece was written in the late ’40s and published in 1951, I think, but then revised in 1953. I assume I am listening to the 1953 version.
This piece gets off to a far more aggressively modern start than the first concerto, so it’s far more up my alley immediately. (Though I came to quite like the first concerto.) There are still traditional elements mixed in – such as baroque-sounding melodies – but they far less dominant in the first movement.
This is the kind of aggressively modern stuff that hints at the past that I really enjoy. It feels both bold and playful at the same time, yet it’s still melodic enough to (presumably) not scare off those who are afraid of out-and-out modern music (i.e. atonal or serial stuff).
Elegy for Anne Frank (1989)
This is actually an extract from his third symphony, apparently. As you know, I kind of hate excerpts.
The piece begins with a reading from the famous diary, which seems apt.
After a couple of minutes, the music begins. As you would expect, there is a strong elegiac quality to it. It is quiet and subtle, which is not a bad thing. But eventually it builds to something much more dramatic, which does not feel so elegiac, but which almost suggests the impending doom of the Nazi occupation, or something like that.
That’s followed by more narration, which a little bit of music mixed in which gives some sense of hope.
I’m not a fan of excerpts but I guess this does what it sets out to do, which is to pair some effective music with diary readings.