James Maddalena, FOSS: Elegy for Anne Frank / Song of Anguish / BEASER: The Heavenly Feast

Justin Davidson

By Justin Davidson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

People always had trouble deciding how seriously to take Lukas Foss, or what file drawer to locate him in — an elusiveness he has been rightly proud of. Was he the Americanist of “The Prairie,” the Biblical tragedian of “Songs of Anguish,” the experimental modernist of the '60s, whose “Time Cycle” and “Echoi” still hold up as triumphs of the moderate avant-garde? Or was he the light-fingered neoclassicist who seemed still to be working out the answers to puzzles proposed by Bach? Is his “Central Park Reel” a genuine tribute to backcountry folk music, or just a form of urbane condescension?

An aural lament from one of America-via-Germany’s most underrated modern composers.

There can be no doubt about the sincerity or effectiveness of his 1989 piano concerto “Elegy for Anne Frank.” A naive melody hesitantly forms itself against a background of melancholy strings, as if a child were sitting at the piano, plunking out the elements of her identity. But a tune, Foss shows, can mutate, acquire character and a destiny, and Anne Frank's morphs into a grim, oppressive march. Foss'musical narrative is so clear, it's hardly even necessary to know that Frank spent her truncated adolescence during World War II hiding in an Amsterdam attic and musing into her diary, before the Nazis deported her to Auschwitz and murdered her there. The piece ends with the tinkle of a toy-like piano petering out into silence.