Kenneth Fuchs: Falling Man; Movie House; Songs of Innocence & of Experience / Roderick Williams, baritone


September 11, 2001 was a day never to be forgotten. It was unspeakably devastating, and a tragically surreal day for all who witnessed the events unfold. I was there that day, hearing incessant sirens, watching in disbelief as the North Tower crumbled, smelling the stench and wandering in all directions trying to escape the reality... Such is the subject matter with which the music on this disc intends to grapple. Based on Don DeLlllo’s post-9/11 novel Falling Man, the eponymous song cycle composed by Kenneth Fuchs is a stunning work that truly encapsulates the ineffable experiences of that day. Fuchs' music supports but never overshadows baritone Roderick Williams. You can hear every gripping word of the sung narrative. The London Symphony’s superb accompaniment is under the excellent direction of JoAnn Falletta. With Falling Man, Fuchs has written what for me is the defining musical memorial of 9/11. The music has the grace and strength needed for such a work.

There are two other song cycles filling out this wonderful disc. One is based on the poems of John Updike and the other one on poetry of William Blake. Fuchs is one of the great composers of our time, composing music that is expressive, beautiful and broadly tonal. The Updike piece, 2007's Movie House, is based on the writer's second volume of poetry. Again, the songs are set for baritone, this time supported by a chamber ensemble. The poems are brilliantly set. They evoke a different time and feeling: the 1950’s. Williams singing in his dramatic best captures the mood and meaning of these poems.

One of his earliest works, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, was composed in 1977 while Fuchs was still in college. One can see and hear the roots of his great future music. These songs, settings of Blake texts from 1794, also employ the baritone voice with chamber ensemble. The work includes Blake’s marvelous poem 'The Tyger' which is the pinnacle piece for this interesting and sensitive set. It is a fascinating work bordering on the atonal, making frequent use of the 12 tone scale.

This disc is well worth owning for the music and the works show off the best in contemporary classical music. Williams is an outstanding baritone and we are lucky to hear him on these works. This release was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 2013. The sound quality of the disc, as on most Naxos issues, is outstanding. I hope that Fuchs continues to compose such interesting and wonderful music in the future.