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 recording of Joseph Schwanter’s music from Naxos, “Chasing Light.” This Pulitzer Prize-winning composer has been 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 is 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.

Top-flight in every way.

Joseph Schwantner; Chasing Light; Morning’s Embrace; Percussion Concerto
Christopher Lamb, percussion; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

More Recent Posts