Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kenneth Fuchs, String Quartet No. 5 "American," Falling Canons, Falling Trio

American composer Kenneth Fuchs was in some ways an unknown quantity/quality for me until I started to listen to his new CD of chamber music, String Quartet No. 5 ("American"), Falling Canons, Falling Trio (Naxos 8.559733).

Now that I have listened to the CD more than a few times I can say that I DO know his recent music. This is the sort of album that seems to well epitomize what a composer is about. And Fuchs' music is singular enough that what is going on in his music stands out with a kind of hard-drawn clarity.

The Fifth String Quartet runs about a half hour, with one long movement centered around a theme that winds along at some length, descending rather slowly in a jagged fashion. The theme has a minor key tonal center and in some ways to me sounds not exactly American in some prototypical way. What does hit me is the quality of the contrapuntal and harmonic thematic development. For this quartet shows its structure as the interior of a building would if one were to see all the beams and supporting architectural features. There is dramatic theme and variations form with a fantasia-like freedom at times, a rigorous four-way interplay with free-flowing contrasts, followed by a change to diatonic major, a more countrified Americana feel, and an exciting allegro pitch to the finish line. The Debray String Quartet sounds great in their performance of what is a very pleasing, moving piece.

The other two works on the program relate to each other as offshoots of a previous work, "Man Falling," written for baritone and orchestra after Don DeLillo's novel touching on post-9-11 issues.

The "Falling Canons," in seven movements, works out some brilliant counterpoint for solo piano, based on a theme from "Man Falling." There is a set of intricate variations, canons, developed out of the chromatic falling theme motif. Christopher O'Riley shines in the solo role.

"Falling Trio" works out an expanded color palette made available by using a piano trio (piano, violin, cello). The same falling theme is again the basis for the one-movement work, and there is a mix of homophony and polyphonic counterpoint for a slightly less rigorous but more meditative and expressive result. There are moments of late romantic feeling that descend upon the music towards the end, with the jagged chromatic and minor mode descending that link this work with the two previous. It is elegaic in the end, and in this way we have a resolution of the contrapuntal tension that has built up. A penultimate, dramatic set of accented figures leads to an even more elegiac mood. Cascading piano, complemented by long-lined, long-toned figures in the strings leave us grounded, feeling moved and, perhaps, rather transcendent. Trio21 are exemplary on this piece.

When the music is finished and silence reigns (as much as there can be such a thing where I write) one is left with the feeling that a presence has gone, that as much as music can say what words cannot, that all has been said, that more would add nothing to what has been expressed.

Fuchs delivers an extremely powerful punch with these three works sequenced as they are on the CD. The triumvirate of sounds acts as a kind of monumental remembrance in musical terms. This is a high form of discourse indeed. Recommended!

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