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A Percussionist's Eden in the Morning while Chasing Light,
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This review is from: Schwantner: Chasing Light... (Audio CD)
This album offers three premiere recordings. The Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra is more a study and survey of timbre than of statement. Only its second movement [Mysterioso: in Memoriam] is compelling for me, with its gravity and depth, and with its tempo and percussion, it suggests at times a Javanese gamelan. Schwantner seemingly throws in the kitchen sink in his arsenal of percussion: tom toms, timbaletas, bongos, marimba, xylophone, crotales, vibrophone, Alpine herd bells, triangles, cymbals, water gong, bass drum, tenor drum, and shekere beaded gourd. While the first movement is much ado with no clear direction, other than perhaps a showcase of bravura and energy, the final movement, through its diverse instrumental development, has urgency and propulsion leading to excitement, but it does not endure. The momentum and sound fade toward the end, when the orchestra regroups and closes with a crescendo and accelertion of drumming. I can well understand the popularity of this piece, a crowd pleaser, but ultimately it is ear candy. This cannot be said for the second work, Morning's Embrace. The composition is a musical work of poetry. Mist among New England trees slowly give way to dawn light and a terrain of shadows and glows. Percussion figures in this piece as well, and chordal piano and drum and chimes accent the scene. As the music unfolds, the day commences with energy and potential but the mood, oddly, is inititally somber, then pensive, with just hints of positivity with flute avianlike phrases. Only near the end does the work transform into a general majesty and, in the last measures, a cheerful, sunny brightness of chimes, flutes, and flowing violins. Chasing Light . . . [ ellipsis is part of the title] is a four-movement follow-up composition also concerning morning. The first notes are of timpani. (Why am I not surprised?) Orchestral triplets and six-note lines mark the sunrise that opens into a sweet musical pallindorme representing a joyful rainbow. The third section is shadowy, edgier and nervous, but the final part summarizes and shimmers as light envelops the land.
The performance by the Nashville Symphony is very fine, and Christopher Lamb and his fellow percussionists do a splendid job in juggling instruments and positions. The sonic engineering provided excellent clarity, yet the orchestra was put at a distance and I did not feel 'presence'. This furthest back virtual orchestral seat was more acute in the concerto. There was no warmth in the Nature pieces. Moreover, the issuing volume was so low that I had to raise the volume of my stereo system by 50%. Encompassing and balancing the deep bass of a drum, the high registers of xylophone, triangle, and chimes, and the resonances of vibrophone and marimba while bringing the listener close do pose engineering difficulties. Despite my technology grumbles, I found the album worthy, intellectually interesting and emotionally enjoyable, and it is good to hear examples of this Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. ****1/2