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CD Review

Joseph Schwantner

  • A Sudden Rainbow
  • Angelfire
  • Beyond Autumn
  • September Canticle
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
Gregory Hurtis, French horn
James Diaz, organ
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
Hyperion CDA67493 66m DDD
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Reviewing music by a composer totally new to me is always an occasion for curiosity and apprehension but this CD dedicated to works by Joseph Schwantner proved to be a most satisfying and exciting experience.

Born in Chicago in 1943, Schwantner is today considered as a prominent figure in American contemporary music, and is the recipient of many awards, including, among others, the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award. Until recently, he occupied the post of Professor of Music at Yale University. His music has been performed extensively worldwide, and no wonder, as it is extremely accessible and cinematic in style. Although Schwantner's style is compared to Berg, Crumb, Messiaen and even Debussy, it has its own distinctive voice and is not only emotionally exciting and painful, but also textually luminous and saturated with dramatic imagery.

'A Sudden Rainbow' (1986) is the earliest work on disc, and the only one for orchestra alone. It calls for amplified piano and celesta and has an advanced role for pitched and unpitched percussion. 'Angelfire' composed in 2001 is the third in a series of fantasies for solo instrument and orchestra; in this case it is the amplified violin brilliantly played by Anne Akiko Myers. 'Angelfire' encompasses music that is both austere and stark on one hand, and incisive and violent on the other.

The 1999 Poem for 'horn and orchestra' 'Beyond Autumn' is a single movement piece full of nostalgic images inspired by a poem written by the composer himself. It is also a tour-de-force for the horn with Gregory Hustis grabbing the opportunity to display his amazing playing abilities. The 'September Canticle' (2002) is, I dare say, a historic piece. It is a 'Fantasy' for organ, brass, percussion, amplified piano and strings, which Schwantner composed as a tribute to the September 11 victims. It is quiet and simple but also moving and poignant, and at times even menacing.

James Diaz delivers his organ part with eloquence and profundity. Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony are strong advocates of this new and enterprising music full of stimulating sounds. A wonderful surprise well worth investigating.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech