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David Hurwitz, February 2012

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. © 2012 Read complete review

MusicWeb International, February 2012

Lamb, the Nashville Symphony and Guerrero give pretty much immaculate performances in all three works. The Nashvillers now have many recordings under their belt for Naxos, including perhaps a dozen in this generally superb ‘American Classics’ series—long may they continue.

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. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Craig Zeichner, December 2011

Best of 2011

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. © 2011 Ariama See complete list

Joseph Magil
American Record Guide, November 2011

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.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, November 2011

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.

Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, November 2011

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

… Christopher Lamb, who performs…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.

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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

Joseph Schwantner names George Crumb, Olivier Messiaen and Claude Debussy among those who have most influenced his music. That is a pretty wide spectrum and could well frighten off those of a conservative musical nature, but I urge you to hear the disc before you make any presumptions. Born in the United States in 1943, he is among those who cite their Pulitzer Prize as a testimony to their place in today’s artistic world. All three works here recorded would also confirm his ability to create scores that make a deep impact, at times using a rhythmic sledgehammer to drive home his point. The Percussion Concerto completed in 1994 is in three movements and contains a massive improvised cadenza that takes up most of the finale. The central Misterioso takes us into a dark and solemn elegy. It is here performed, with considerable brilliance and dexterity, by Christopher Lamb who gave the first performance with the New York Philharmonic as part of the orchestra’s 150th anniversary. Morning’s Embrace was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 2006. It calls for a standard size orchestra with much use of the three percussion players. It is intended to picture sunrise in rural New Hampshire, though without that fact my unaware ears would have built a picture of a dark, menacing and disturbing scene. The disc’s most recent score comes with Chasing Light…written in 2008 for performance by the American League of Orchestras of which the Nashville Symphony is a member. It continues in exactly the same mould as Morning’s Embrace, this shorter four-movement piece ending with Morning’s Embrace Confronts the Dawn. The Nashville Symphony’s performances, under their recently appointed music director, Giancarlo Guerrero, are very imposing, the recorded sound high on impact yet clearly detailed.

Steve Schwartz, August 2011

Beat, beat drums! Blow, bugles, blow!…

Chasing Light…moves musically with purpose. It’s based upon a nothing poem by the composer, high-flown nonsense that means absolutely nothing. If it were food, it would be a can of Pringles…This is one beautiful, moving score, and one which needs no extra-musical help.

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.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, July 2011

Joseph Schwantner has gone from the status of a very promising young modernist American composer in the late ’60s to one of our very best today. The new Nashville Symphony recording of three of Maestro Schwantner’s major later period works, Chasing Light (Naxos 8.559678), makes it clear why. He has developed a vividly colorful orchestral palette which he uses to cover musical canvases in ways that strike the ear and remain memorable long after they have been heard.

The CD gives listeners a generous 68 minutes of his music. The 1994 “Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra” brings together some very difficult and exciting percussion soloing (performed here by Christopher Lamb, for whom the work was originally intended) with orchestral brilliance. The National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin (with Evelyn Glennie as soloist) did a version for RCA in the later ’90s. That version was excellent, but Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony hold their own on the Naxos disk with a reading that is every bit as luminous, though I might give a slight edge to Glennie for her impassioned performance.

“Morning’s Embrace,” the second work on the program, is a 2005 work with some prominent percussion and even more brilliant orchestral light. It depicts a sunrise in rural New Hampshire and it does so with all the resources the orchestra can muster.

The final work (from 2008) shows that Schwantner does not stand still. His orchestral writing is confident, lucid and original. You can hear the development in his musical vocabulary in the 14 years represented on the disk, culminating in a rather thrilling dynamism and muscular energy that eschews trendiness and opts instead for a form of personal expression that cuts across catagorical niceties to go straight into a realm one can best call Schwantner music.

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.

Stephen Eddins, July 2011

The Ford Made in America consortium is made up of orchestras from all 50 states that collectively commission and perform new works, giving the pieces a kind of extensive exposure almost unheard of for contemporary orchestral music. The first commission, for Joan Tower’s Made in America, was a huge success, receiving over 80 performances, and the CD of the performance with the Nashville Symphony won three Grammys, so the consortium is continuing its winning formula. The second commission went to Pulitzer Prize-winning Joseph Schwantner (born 1939), a masterful and inventive orchestrator with a distinctive, recognizable style, whose work makes full use of contemporary techniques in orchestral and chamber pieces that appeal to broad audiences. The resulting work, Chasing Light…, written in 2008, is recorded here by Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony along with the composer’s 1994 Concerto for percussion and orchestra and Morning’s Embrace from 2005. The three works demonstrate a character that was less evident in Schwantner’s aesthetic in his earlier works: a brawny extroversion reminiscent of Bernstein’s jazzy rhythmic energy. It’s a more populist sound that’s certainly appropriate for a work like Chasing Light…, which, because of its commissioning situation, has an unstated but undeniable purpose of giving expression to a specifically American vitality. The piece is still clearly Schwantner’s own, with the composer’s characteristic rhythmic displacements and moments of ravishing gossamer delicacy for which he is especially known, heard clearly in the lovely second movement. 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—but not great; these are pieces that require a brilliance and presence that the engineering doesn’t quite achieve. Highly recommended for fans of new orchestral music and of percussion.

John Pitcher
Nashville Scene, June 2011

The Nashville Symphony had just played the concerto’s final, raucous notes when the doors of the Laura Turner Concert Hall flung open. A pair of middle-school-age boys, their hair greased into multicolored punk spikes, strolled into the lobby. Their faces burned with excitement.

“That was the most awesome thing I ever heard in my life,” exclaimed one of the boys.

The proximate cause of their youthful enthusiasm was contemporary American composer Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, which the symphony performed at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in February. Naxos, the Franklin-based classical label, recorded guest percussionist Christopher Lamb’s awe-inspiring rendition as part of an all-Schwantner album that was released last week. The disc also includes the world-premiere recordings of Morning’s Embrace and Chasing Light….

Schwantner, a 68-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner, composed his percussion concerto in 1994 for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic. The piece has become one of the most performed contemporary concertos in the repertory. Its popularity is no doubt due to Schwantner’s vivid ear for orchestral color and virtuoso treatment of percussion.

Lamb, the principal percussionist of the New York Philharmonic, basically owns this concerto, having given the work its world premiere in 1995. His new recording of the piece is electrifying. He played the concerto’s opening drum motif with primal power. After that violent outburst, he switched to amplified marimba, sending forth shards of sparkling notes with effortless virtuosity.

The concerto’s emotional highlight is the slow second movement, a dark-hued elegy that leaves no percussion sound unexplored. Lamb used a bevy of instruments, including vibraphone (played with both mallets and a contrabass bow), a rack of Alpine herd bells, triangles, cymbals, a set of high-octave crotales, bass drum, tenor drum and water gong, which made a delightfully surreal sound. Lamb played all these instruments with consummate skill.

He was no less impressive in the finale, which features one the most rollicking drum-set solos in the entire classical repertory. Music director Giancarlo Guerrero and the symphony provided polished and atmospheric accompaniment in all three movements.

Last year’s catastrophic flood forced the symphony out of the Schermerhorn and into Ben’s Studio (formerly RCA Studio A) in Nashville to record the other works on the album. Those recordings, expertly produced and engineered by Tim Handley, sound as alive as anything heard in the Schermerhorn.

In his program notes, Schwantner writes that Morning’s Embrace is a sonic depiction of the intense sunrises he enjoys in rural New Hampshire. The work’s opening music, however, is so dark, dramatic and urgent that one could easily imagine a sunrise on an alien planet. The New England landscape is finally called to mind in the middle section, with pastoral flute music that could have come from the pen of Vaughan Williams. Guerrero and the symphony play the piece with brilliance and flair.

Chasing Light… is another tribute to New Hampshire sunrises. This work is a blazing musical starburst, a kaleidoscopic swirl of orchestral color, and the symphony plays it with energy and joyous emotion. It’s worth noting that Chasing Light… is the second piece commissioned by the Ford Made in America program. The program’s first work, Joan Tower’s Made in America, earned the symphony three Grammy Awards. That bodes well for the current recording.

Cinemusical, June 2011

Joseph Schwantner’s music is known for its drama and fascinating orchestral colors. His music may at times recall the American symphonists of the 1940s–1950s (Harris, Piston, Schuman) or even Post-minimalists like John Adams. In the present release, one can hear these stylistic traits mixed into what is the composer’s personal stamp in three important works.

The most prominent piece is the 1994 Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra. The work, written for the soloists who appears on this recording, is quite engaging. What makes the piece interesting in concert is where the soloists is physically located as the piece moves along (from the percussion section, to center stage and back) and musically as the solos grow out of the percussion section at times. The opening movement focuses mostly on non-pitched percussion that moves forcefully through the primary material gradually adding in pitched instruments (marimba, xylophone, etc.). The elegiac slow movement has a heartbeat-like pulse as it moves through various shades of color. In the final movement, the piece takes on almost filmic qualities with some syncopations that film music fans will find reminiscent of Goldsmith or Poledouris. The overall arch-like form of the piece pulls everything together for its exciting conclusion. Lamb’s performance here is simply superb and the Nashville Orchestra proves it can deftly handle this material.

That turns out to be a very promising start as the disc continues with two more recent orchestral works. First is the at times gorgeous Morning’s Embrace (2005). This study in orchestral tone color takes its inspiration from the natural environment (here the sunrises of New Hampshire). The music is constantly shimmering and changing through a series of ideas that move throughout the orchestral creating interesting shifts in color made more pronounced by the opening drone material that implies a tonal center. The piece a tone poem of light and it receives its world premiere recording here in a beautiful performance.

The disc concludes with the more recent Chasing Light…(2008) which also takes its inspiration from New England nature and its poets. The piece, part of the Ford Made in America commissioning grants, has since been heard in every state in performances by some 60 orchestras. Those coming to this disc to recapture those concert performances will find it surrounded by equally engaging works and it makes a fitting conclusion to this disc. The piece is cast in four movements that tend to explore more woodwind colors throughout its thematic and motivic development. The opening movement has a bit more forceful energy, similar to that heard in the included concerto. The second and third movements feature delightfully-written solos for winds cast against almost pointillistic harp and piano ideas. The music is held together by repeated phrases that provide aural cues to the music’s structure as it moves along to a forceful conclusion in its final dramatic movement.

The Nashville Symphony continues to prove itself well with each successive Naxos release. Guerrero draws out brilliant playing from the ensemble throughout these recordings. There is no better introduction to Schwantner’s music than in this present release which is highly recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group