Schwantner: Chasing Light / Guerrero, Nashville Symphony Orchestra

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SCHWANTNER Percussion Concerto 1. Morning’s Embrace. Chasing Light • Giancarlo Guerrero, cond; 1 Christopher Lamb, perc; Nashville SO • NAXOS 8.559678 (68:00) Bottom line first:...

SCHWANTNER Percussion Concerto 1. Morning’s Embrace. Chasing Light Giancarlo Guerrero, cond; 1 Christopher Lamb, perc; Nashville SO NAXOS 8.559678 (68:00)

Bottom line first: If you know and love the music of American composer Joseph Schwantner, you will find this brilliantly performed and vividly recorded disc irresistible. You need read no further. Those who are unfamiliar with the music of this magnificently gifted composer are urged to read on.

Schwantner long ago established himself as one of the preeminent composers of our time. Born in Chicago in 1943 and educated at Northwestern University, Schwantner has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 1970 Charles Ives Scholarship and the 1979 Pulitzer Prize, as well as commissions from the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the National Symphony, and many other world-class ensembles and artists. His style is immediately accessible and very eclectic, incorporating elements of French Impressionism, jazz-influenced harmonies, African drumming, and Minimalism. Schwantner often finds inspiration in poetry, the verbal imagery of which frequently becomes the basis for his titles—… and the mountains rising nowhere, Aftertones of Infinity, Chasing Light (included on this disc), etc. Early on he developed his own unique sound, distinguished by mildly dissonant harmonies scored in an open manner, often presented in glittering pyramid and cascade effects. He is also a master orchestral colorist. Schwantner’s early works were somewhat episodic and fragmented, relying almost entirely on successions of independent and seemingly unrelated sonic tapestries, held together by a recurring, structurally binding chord. More recently, his works have been more forward-moving and thematically based (though I would hesitate to describe them as melodic in the traditional sense), while still retaining the composer’s unique sound and compositional fingerprints.

My friend and Fanfare colleague Walter Simmons very accurately described Schwantner’s 1994 Percussion Concerto as “a tremendously exciting showpiece, involving the featured instruments in lots of activity, well organized into a coherent statement” ( Fanfare 21:6). The emotional and musical heart of the work is the second movement, “In Memoriam,” a moving elegy to American composer Stephen Albert, a close friend of Schwantner, whose life was cut short in a car accident at age 51. The binding element of the movement is the bass drum, which plays a repeated rhythm representing the beating of a human heart. The emotional effect is overwhelming as the heartbeat fades and slows to silence. The two outer movements are more overtly flashy, though no less musically substantial, displaying the virtuoso potential of a virtual arsenal of percussion instruments. The work was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its principal percussionist, Christopher Lamb, who performs it on this disc and whose insightful, texturally clear, and colorful interpretation makes a wonderful companion to the more overtly virtuosic premiere recording by Evelyn Glennie and the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin (RCA 68692). I would not want to be without either recording.

Two recent works, both of which were inspired by the sunrise at Schwantner’s home in rural New Hampshire, complete the disc. The composer’s own wonderfully informative program notes, upon which I could not improve, provide eloquent and accurate descriptions of these works. Schwantner tells us that his Morning’s Embrace , composed in 2005, “draws its spirit and energy from the intensely vibrant early-morning sunrises I experience living in rural New Hampshire. The powerful kaleidoscope of hue and color piercing the morning mist and trees provided potent imagery for my musical imagination.” The work is a dazzling procession of orchestral color from dark to light, the effect of which is quite breathtaking.

Chasing Light from 2008, a similarly inspired work, concludes the disc. Again in the composer’s words, “One of the special pleasures of living in rural New Hampshire is experiencing the often brilliant and intense early-morning sunrises, reminding one of Thoreau’s words, ‘Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.’” He further states, “ Chasing Light , like my earlier work Morning’s Embrace , also draws inspiration from the celebration of vibrant colors and light that penetrate the morning mist as it wafts through the trees in the high New England hills.” Like its companion piece, this four-movement orchestral tour de force is a feast for the ears.

The Nashville Symphony, conducted by its music director, Giancarlo Guerreo, plays the music as if it owns it, stepping up to give performances befitting the greatest orchestras in the world. The recording is rich and lucidly detailed, though I would have preferred a bit more orchestral presence in the concerto. Highly recommended and a Want List no-brainer.

FANFARE: Merlin Patterson

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 28, 2011

  • UPC: 636943967829

  • Catalog Number: 8559678

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: ""

  • Composer: Joseph Schwantner

  • Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Christopher Lamb


  1. Chasing Light

    Composer: Joseph Schwantner

    Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero

  2. Concerto for Percussion

    Composer: Joseph Schwantner

    Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra

    Performer: Christopher Lamb (Percussion)

    Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero

  3. Morning's Embrace

    Composer: Joseph Schwantner

    Ensemble: Nashville Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero