MUSO reviews Lukas Foss: The Prairie

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MUSO
Andy Gottlieb
December 1, 2009

The title itself, The Prairie, gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Copland-esque open harmonies abound, proto-Bernstein fugues wind their way in, and Carl Sandburg's 1918 poem is very much a product of its time (although the notes make the point that its now toe-curling treatment of Native Americans was far in advance of Hollywood's at the same time).

The Prairie is the work that launched the career of Lukas Foss (born 1922). Premiered in 1944, it paved the way for its mature companion-piece, his 1976 Bicentennial work American Cantata,The Prairie sits on the same line of thought that inspired his teacher's Requiem and Copland's Genesis setting, In the Beginning.

The performance is by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and issued on its own label, devoted "entirely to new music recordings." Now, a 64-year-old work ain’t new, but perhaps this marks the launch of an initiative to record more of Foss’s work.

As for this disc? Get past the questionable poetry and the sense of an earnest young man trying to impress (and, truth be told, largely succeeding), and you’re left with a competent performance. The choir is a trifle thin, the solo singers are fine if a touch parochial-sounding. It’s a curiosity, to be sure, worth hearing once but, if I’m honest, not twice.

– Andy Gottlieb