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Joseph Schwantner: Chasing Light / Guerrero, Nashville Symphony Orchestra

Album Summary

>Schwantner, Joseph : Concerto for Percussion
>Schwantner, Joseph : Morning's Embrace, for orchestra
>Schwantner, Joseph : Chasing Light..., for orchestra
Performer Conductor Ensemble
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Notes & Reviews:

In 2001 an entrepreneurial group of smaller-budget orchestras banded together and pooled their resources to commission a renowned American composer. Through this unique initiative, the Ford Made in America program was formed. Spearheaded by two national music service organizations, the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer, the program exemplifies the spirit of partnership, commitment to creativity, and the true vitality of America's orchestras and composers.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Joseph Schwantner was the second composer to be commissioned for this groundbreaking program. His new work, Chasing Light..., received more than 70 performances within an eighteen month period, an accomplishment which is virtually unprecedented outside the Ford Made in America program. Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Schwantner is one of the most prominent composers in America today, renowned for his dramatic style and bewitchingly colorful orchestration. Morning's Embrace depicts the intense brilliance of sunrise at his home in rural New Hampshire, and the 'Ford Made in America' commission Chasing Light... continues to explore the natural world in a work of eloquent expressiveness. A highly popular concert piece, the 'fresh, engaging' (Metro) and technically demanding Percussion Concerto is performed here by the acclaimed soloist for whom the work was written, New York Philharmonic Principal Percussionist Christopher Lamb.

Led by Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero, the GRAMMY® Award-winning Nashville Symphony has a growing international reputation for its recordings and innovative programming. The Nashville Symphony has received far-reaching acclaim for its nineteen recordings on Naxos, making the Nashville Symphony currently one of the most active recording orchestras in the country. These recordings have received thirteen GRAMMY® nominations and six GRAMMY® wins, most recently for the orchestra's recording of works by American composer Michael Daugherty (Naxos 8.559635).

"If you know and love the music of American composer Joseph Schwantner, you will find this brilliantly performed and vividly recorded disc irresistible... 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

"The Percussion Concerto is also a terrific piece that dazzles with the freshness of its inventiveness and the expansiveness and originality of its gorgeous timbral palette. This is a memorable work that has already had a distinguished performance history and seems destined for a secure place in the repertoire of percussion concertos. Christopher Lamb, for whom it was written, plays with enormous energy. The Nashville Symphony comes across as a world-class orchestra in its deft handling of these virtuosic scores and the fullness and polish of its sound. Naxos’ sound is good—clean, clear, and detailed... Highly recommended for fans of new orchestral music and of percussion." -All Music Guide

the music is colorful, shimmering, occasionally melodic, and quite accessible. Schwantner is by any standard a very accomplished composer. The performances by the Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero are as brilliant and exuberant as the music itself, and are very well recorded. Naxos, which happens to be located in Nashville, has a lot to be proud of with this one.

MusicWeb International
Recordings made in America are quite often of the highest quality, and these are no exception. The Percussion Concerto was recorded in front of an audience, but the sound is as noise-free as a studio recording. The booklet, whilst slim, is detailed and informative, particularly Schwantner's own notes on his works, which are all anyone could wish for.

Joseph Schwantner is the finest living composer you might never have heard of. This recording of his vibrantly colorful orchestral music gets A+ performances from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. The Percussion Concerto is a thriller and the other works of equal quality. Schwantner really deserves to be better known and he has no better advocates than the Nashville band and their superb risk-taking conductor.

No fan of the music of Joseph Schwantner or of contemporary music in general will want to be without the stunning performances of three of his most engaging works by the Nashville Symphony conducted by its music director, Giancarlo Guerrero.

American Record Guide
Schwantner is in his way carrying on the grand American tradition of composers like Copland and Schuman, and is doing it brilliantly. If you like those composers, you should love this music.... I couldn't help but find this release inspiring, especially in these culturally frightening times. Congratulations to all. The Nashville Symphony continues to sound like a world-class ensemble.

The Percussion Concerto has received plenty of acclaim since its premiere over 15 years ago with soloist Christopher Lamb and the New York Philharmonic... a fine work, full of Schwantner's characteristically gorgeous orchestration... one of the really solid Naxos releases in its "American Classics" series.

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
He is a gem, a blazing sun of orchestral music today. Chasing Light gives you three exemplary works, played with conviction. It should not be ignored.


Great disc highlights both composer and orchestra!
Joseph Schwantner has been one of America's very finest composers and among our best known for quite some time now. My first exposure to his music was hearing his 1979 Pulitzer prize winning "Aftertones of Infinity". Other listeners may know his sweeping Copland-esque "New Morning for the World" utilizing the words of Martin Luther King. All of Schwanter's music is imbued with a keen sense of drama and creation of some wonderful tone colors and sonorities. This new disc in Naxos' ongoing "American Classics" series is indeed another brilliant addition to that series but showcases some of the sounds that Schwantner is best known for. His three movement "Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra" is a brilliant tour-de-force for the soloist; in this case the incredible Christopher Lamb. There are moments in this work that are reminiscent of Holst or Stravinsky but also of Schwanter's other output. He is a composer who has always known how to best utilize the percussion section and the mystery and introspection of the middle movement is met by the drive and energy of the outher two. The other works on this album are just as captivating. "Morning's Embrace" was written in 2005 for the National Symphony and Leonard Slatkin. Like Schwanter's other work, "A Sudden Rainbow", this picturesque work opens with tinkling metal percussion and open, plaintive strings. "Morning's Embrace" very effectively evokes a sunrise and makes great use of majestic harmonies that are commented on or "interrupted" by percussion and piano. Similarly, "Chasing Light" is a brilliant four movement work, each movement articulating some aspect of light, including the last movement that evokes both the title and the mood of "Morning's Embrace". This wonderful work is a product of the Ford "Made in America" commissioning consortium. All of this music makes me realize why I have always liked Joseph Schwantner's music since hearing "...Infinity" in Chicago awhile ago. He is a gifted and accessible composer with a unique voice. The performances on this disc are worth special mention. The Nashville Symphony has been around for awhile and has always, as I recall, been a good ensemble but one without a lot of recordings to bolster their reputation. They rather burst back into recognition with a great "Made in America" CD with Leonard Slatkin and the music of Joan Tower. Now, Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero has his ensemble playing at a very high level on this CD. The solo work is excellent and the sound is clean and balanced. Using American music to gain exposure for an orchestra that more people need to know is precisely what Leonard Slatkin, who I admire a great deal, did in St. Louis. This disc reminded me of those days and it sounds to me like Mr. Guerrero is taking the Nashville Symphony in that same direction. That would excite me a great deal and I look forward to more!
Submitted on 07/25/11 by Dan Coombs 
Joseph Schwantner, Chaser of Light
Two of these things belong together (but the third one's fine, too). That's a capsule summary of my reaction to this new rerelease. Schwantner’s fascinated by light, and two of the works on this CD were directly inspired by it.

Morning's Embrace, according to the composer, "draws its spirit and energy from... intensely vibrant early morning sunrises." Schwantner's wide-open melodies and spare orchestration seem almost Coplandesque at time, which is not a bad thing at all. It's a warm, inviting work, fulfilling the promise of the title.

Chasing Light is another dawn-inspired work. In this case, Schwantner creates a tone poem describing the play of morning sunlight through a stand of trees. But the hammering tympani that start the piece let you know this won't be a quiet contemplation of nature. This sun's coming up like thunder. Schwantner's music simultaneously shimmers and pushes forward, as inexorably as the rising sun. The dramatic nature of this composition makes it seem almost like a soundtrack for an epic film.

While the Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra has nothing to do with light, it has everything to do with Schwantner's affinity for percussion. Commissioned by Christopher Lamb (who performs in this recording), this a brawny, full-blooded work that celebrates the musicality in all things struck. The first part sets the tone with various drums sounding out the melody that the orchestra picks up. The lyrical middle section is primarily for vibraphone and various tuned percussive instruments that create a haunting, and contemplative elegiac mood. The finale is as rhythmic and percussive as the first part -- only more so. It's great fun to listen to, and I suspect even more fun to watch in live performance.

Giancarlo Guerrero masterfully leads a Nashville Symphony that's on top of its game. The ensemble plays with conviction and authority, as if they had been performing these works for years. Christopher Lamb is an incredible percussionist, playing music that's an integral part of him.

Submitted on 07/27/11 by RGraves321 
A winner from Naxos American Classics
The American composer Joseph Schwantner has been called a "gifted orchestral colorist". That might be considered faint praise, with an implication of superficiality. But I don't believe that true mastery of orchestral color can be achieved without delicacy, depth and drive. I'd rather think of the great masters of orchestral color - Debussy or Villa-Lobos, for example - as being colorists in the same sense that Titian was a great colorist of painting. That's raising the bar pretty high, of course, and the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of the music need at least to be along for the ride (as they always are for Debussy, and usually are for Villa-Lobos).

Judged even by these criteria, though, I would call Schwantner's Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (1994) a major success. I knew the concerto in its arrangement by Andrew Boysen for Percussion and Concert Band, on two different recordings from Calgary & West Texas. This new Naxos CD has the major advantage of having a full orchestra; Schwantner is working with a full palette. And not just any orchestra - the Nashville Symphony is in fine form under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero. Christopher Lamb, for whom the composer wrote this piece, provides an incredible range of sounds from his large battery of instruments. This is a major masterpiece of the last decade of the 20th century.

Of the two other pieces on the disc, both World Premiere recordings, I was most impressed with Morning's Embrace, an evocative naturescape. Schwantner, like a few other American composers, is able to write music inspired by nature that stays out of the well-worn grooves of the English pastoral tradition and "New Age" kitsch. This is music with interesting "sound environments" (Schwantner's own words) that have a strong underlying musical logic. I was less taken, though, by Chasing Light..., though the work's appeal might just take longer to get through. I'll certainly be listening to this CD more often than most works of new music. Another winner from Naxos American Classics.
Submitted on 08/19/11 by Dean Frey 
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Works Details

>Schwantner, Joseph : Concerto for Percussion
  • Performer: Christopher Lamb (Percussion)
  • Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero
  • Notes: Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA (02/17/2011-02/19/2011)
  • Running Time: 27 min. 18 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 1994
  • Studio/Live: Live

>Schwantner, Joseph : Morning's Embrace, for orchestra
  • Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero
  • Running Time: 20 min. 19 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2005

>Schwantner, Joseph : Chasing Light..., for orchestra
  • Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero
  • Running Time: 18 min. 56 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2008