Aaron Jay Kernis
Color Wheel; Symphony No. 4 ‘Chromelodeon’
Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero
Naxos 8.559838 51:29 mins
Commissioned for the 2001 opening of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new home, Verizon Hall, Aaron Jay Kernis’s Color Wheel is a 22-minute orchestral concerto. Its celebratory panache is brilliantly captured by Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony as it spins not only through the colour spectrum but the stylistic spectrum as well: granite dissonances, pensive calm, nervous jazz, Hollywood shock and awe – so many characteristic American sounds find a home with this prize-winning composer, jostling inside a variation chain in fussily luscious orchestrations. Weak ending excepted, it’s an exhilarating ride, blessed with a clear recording that vividly captures the music’s whirlwind textures.
Much less convincing is the Fourth Symphony, Chromelodeon (2018), where similar sounds and moods are pushed through a grander three-movement structure. Kernis’s energy and technical skills remain startling, but his struggle for symphonic significance exposes more limits than strengths in his use of the subtitle’s constituent parts (chromatics, colour, melody). Notes pile up to a choking degree and the finale is empty chatter, while the central slow movement that chews over Handel’s aria ‘Laschia ch’io pianga’ remains more meretricious than meaningful. Luckily, the fretful first movement, labelled ‘Out of Silence’ and opened with tinkling bell sounds, is satisfyingly intriguing. Fortified by extravagant percussion and tottering, drunken brass, Guerrero’s players give the Symphony their all.