Joseph Schwantner – A Sudden Rainbow

0 of 5 stars

A Sudden Rainbow
Angelfire (Fantasy for amplified violin and orchestra)
Beyond Autumn (Poem for horn and orchestra)
September Canticle (Fantasy for organ, brass, percussion, amplified piano and strings)

Anne Akiko Meyers (violin)

Gregory Hustis (horn)

James Diaz (organ)

Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Litton

Recorded between 21-23 June 2004 in the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: September 2005
Duration: 66 minutes

Joseph Schwantner (born 1943) has a lower profile in the UK than in the USA, where, since he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979, his music has been performed by all the country’s major orchestras; in addition, he has held teaching posts at Yale University and the Juilliard School. He is a contemporary of David Del Tredici and John Corigliano, and shares their preference for a mainstream style of concert music; if, on the strength of this survey from Hyperion, his is a less distinctive voice, there is nonetheless much to enjoy in this well-crafted orchestral music.

Schwantner’s skill in fashioning gleaming instrumental textures is displayed in the oldest piece on the disc, A Sudden Rainbow, which positively drips with twinkling tuned percussion. Here, discrete bands of tone colour are deployed as the prism through which thematic material is developed. It’s a lush soundworld that owes as much to the cinema as to the concert hall, but the composer’s sure handling of melody is attractive, and the piece holds the listener’s interest.

Written for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, Angelfire opens with glowering exchanges between soloist and orchestra before taking flight in virtuoso style. Oddly, Meyers’s violin is amplified, producing a slightly harsh sound that will not be to all tastes. The rhapsodic character is continued in Beyond Autumn (Schwantner’s taste for kitsch titles begins to wear after a while), a concertante work for horn and orchestra. In both pieces, the best music is in the more subdued sections, away from the noisy and slightly predictable barrage of heavy percussion that Schwantner wheels-out at moments of climax. This tendency, along with the similar emotional registers, means that the disc becomes slightly repetitive when heard in one sitting, but closer listening reveals the subtler differences in character, and the playing throughout of Andrew Litton’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra is vivid and energetic.

Unfortunately, the disc finishes on a bizarrely substandard note. September Canticle is a for organ, brass, percussion, amplified piano and strings’; if that doesn’t sound unappetising enough, it is also a “personal tribute” to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. What this means in practice is a dire collection of Hollywood clichés: bombastic timpani, sub-Barber strings and an organ part that confuses profundity with loudness.

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