Schwantner: Music of Amber; Sparrows; Distant Runes and Incantations

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schwantner
WORKS: Music of Amber; Sparrows; Distant Runes and Incantations
PERFORMER: Britta Stallmeister (soprano), Florian Hölscher (piano); Holst Sinfonietta/Klaus Simon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559206
The Naxos American Classics series would be invaluable at any price, but this particular disc happens to be so board-sweepingly excellent that one almost feels guilty about buying it at its designated price point. Joseph Schwantner is still probably best known in the UK for his outstanding Percussion Concerto which soloist Adrian Spillett so memorably made his own as the winner of the 1998 BBC Young Musician of the Year. The opportunity to sample some of this composer’s smaller ensemble works would in itself be reason enough to part with the handful of coins required, but this collection is in fact absolutely masterly. The booklet notes use such words as ‘refined’, ‘delicate’ and ‘luminous’ in describing his work and allude to Crumb, Messiaen and Debussy as influences. All of this is true enough, but to the listener the fascination lies in Schwantner’s rare gift for avoiding both banality and gratuitous complexity while at the same time embracing both clarity and an uncompromising, undiluted modernism. The sensitive performances take the unpredictable but compellingly listenable nature of this apparent contradiction in their stride. Stallmeister’s richly lyrical interpretations of the two vocal works (Sparrows and Two Poems of Aguedo Pizzarro) positively glow. Absolutely unmissable. Roger Thomas