Joseph Schwantner, now in his early sixties, has a substantial
and varied output to his credit. His music, always well-crafted
and inventive, has been admittedly influenced by Crumb, Messiaen
and Debussy. The latter’s influence may be most clearly heard
in the subtle scoring of Sparrows, a setting of
fifteen haiku by the 18th century Japanese poet Kobayashi
Issa in English translation. The music echoes the various moods
and feelings suggested by the often simple and direct words.
It does so with a remarkable subtlety and inventiveness; and
the scoring for chamber ensemble abounds with many felicitous
touches without resorting to any “gimmicks”. The players’ soft
humming at the beginning and in the coda of the piece adds to
the instrumental colours in a simple but highly effective way.
A marvellous piece by any count and, as far as I am concerned,
the real gem in this selection from Schwantner’s chamber music.
Soaring for flute and piano is a short, very short piece [1:38] that, true
to its title, opens in a close, animated dialogue between both
instruments before quickly fading away in the ethereal coda.
original version of Distant Runes and Incantations
is a concerto-like piece for piano and orchestra composed in
1984. Three years later, the composer made the chamber version
heard here and re-scored it for flute (doubling piccolo and
alto flute), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), percussion and
string quartet. Though not overtly programmatic, the music is
inspired by a text by the composer (printed in the insert notes)
suggesting moods, feelings and images. The chamber version sounds
entirely satisfying, as far as I can judge; but I would really
like to hear the original orchestral version.
Two Poems of Aguedo Pizarro written for Lucy Shelton
form a nicely contrasted diptych also characterised by some
inventive writing. Although written for soprano and piano, the
“scoring” also includes parts for crotales and pipe (I wonder
what this may be, a whistle? A recorder?) played by both singer
and pianist, which again add some mysterious atmosphere to parts
of the settings, particularly in the first song.
diptych Music of Amber, that ends this very fine
release, started with the first movement Wind Willow Whisper
being written as a separate piece. It was however found too
short, so that the second part Sanctuary was soon completed
and the first part slightly revised with some more percussion.
Again all of Schwantner’s hallmarks are there. The scoring for
six players (flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and
cello) is as inventive as ever, and the whole diptych is a colourful
and contrasted piece of atmospheric and evocative music.
music was new to me, although I had heard a far too short snippet
from his Percussion Concerto to have any idea
about it; and, judging by the attractive pieces heard here,
I found it accessible, colourful, well-crafted and quite inventive
in its own way. It is well served by excellent performances
by the German-based Holst-Sinfonietta, whose director Klaus
Simon also wrote the informative insert notes. There is definitely
much to enjoy in this highly commendable release.