Columbia String Quartet / Guy Klucevsek

Lukas Foss: Curriculum Vitae

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The career of composer Lukas Foss falls rather neatly into three periods that somewhat overlap; his early, "neo-classic" period (1937-1956); the middle "experimental" period (1953-1980); and his late period, which witnessed a blend between his neo-classic and experimental styles (1979-2009). The four works on New World's Lukas Foss: Curriculum Vitae come from late in the experimental period; all four originated on two CRI LPs released around 1980 that for some reason CRI did not find the opportunity to re-release on CD in the decade or so it produced digital recordings. The Columbia String Quartet, which was the group that premiered Morton Feldman's long and arduous String Quartet (1979), are heard in Foss' aggressive and intense String Quartet No. 3 (1976), which, rather like the music of Foss' student Julius Eastman, combines the fragment combination technique of Terry Riley's In C with darker, more in-your-face kinds of textures. Music for Six (1978) is for a combination of any six instruments that read from the treble clef, realized here by Jan Williams and five other members of the University of Buffalo Percussion Ensemble. This one looks forward to Foss' late music in that overall it is modal and melodious, although it's a fairly breathlessly paced piece that is constantly shifting in terms of the pitches used and their ordering. The title work is an accordion solo written to fulfill a commission from the American Accordion Society; it is a humorous collage in the manner of Foss' Baroque Variations with quotations peeking out of tougher, denser material and is expertly realized here by ace accordionist Guy Klucevsek. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1978) is one of Foss' best-known later pieces; this was its first recording historically and is the third to find issue on CD. Despite its recognition above the other three pieces here, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird seems to wear the least well; while it has some striking moments, it is scored for high voice, flute, percussion, and piano and parts of it sound like watered-down George Crumb.

However, that's not a bad average; three hits and one miss, and New World has spared no time in getting this reissue out, appearing barely a year after Foss' death at age 86. Doubtless others will follow; however, this one is a desirable collection, particularly in documenting the transition Foss went through from the experimental middle into his conservative-meets-radical late phase. All of the performances are noteworthy, and CRI did a pretty good job recording all of these pieces, though there is evidence of some peaking in Music for Six.

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