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Lieberson: King Gesar / Ma, Ebrahim, Serkin, Ax

Release Date: 04/22/2014 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 56117  
Composer:  Peter Lieberson
Performer:  Deborah MarshallPeter SerkinOmar EbrahimAndrás Adorján,   ... 
Conductor:  Peter Lieberson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In a world where even classical music seems to be marketed toward babies, this disc comes as a pleasant surprise. Peter Lieberson, the son of Columbia Records's Goddard Lieberson and dancer Vera Zorina, attracted attention in the 80s with his poised piano concerto, which was recorded by Peter Serkin for New World Records. A practicing and teaching Buddhist, Lieberson's music reflects the integrity of his spiritual beliefs, and King Gesar shows the gently didactic direction in which his work has turned.

King Gesar (pronounced “GAY-zar“) of Ling is a figure from Tibetan legends. Lieberson's inspiration came from Alexandra David-Neel's book The Superhuman Life of Gesar of Ling, and poet and novelist Douglas Penick has reworked
Read more this source into an excellent libretto. Like Jesus Christ, Gesar is immaculately conceived and born to a mother in exile, and his mission, to quote from the libretto, is “to bring into this world the kingdom of enlightenment, the deathless realm of true goodness and genuine dignity,“ and “to overwhelm the demon lords that dazzle men's minds and tether their bodies.“ Furthermore, as he is told at maturity by Padma Sambhava, the “Lotus-Born embodiment of spontaneous, awakened activity“:

Because you have never found a hairline of separation between yourself and your environment, you enter, at the heart, into the life of all. Thus you may change your form at will into what serves the cause of goodness. You will show the path of the true king.

His methods, however, are more apocalyptic than Christlike. He lays waste to the heretic Tirthikas with flame and oppressive winds, which makes “blood [run] from their ears and nostrils“ and causes “their brains to burst.“ Later, “their blood vaporizes instantly, and their bodies explode in the terrifying heat.“ Any similarity between this description and the effects of an atomic bomb is purely intentional, 1 suspect. Gesar's earthly life ends with his Song of Completion: humanity has regained its dignity, lost through “mindlessness and lack of vision,“ and Gesar and his familiars rise into the heavens.

Lieberson tells his story in a one-man work, half opera and half oratory, in seven parts. The narrator is seldom silent. He declaims, he chants, and he sings—this must be an exhausting work to perform live. As Lieberson surely must have intended, the music underlines the spiritual message of the text, never distracting the listener, and never needlessly calling attention to the instrumentalists, or to the narrator's vocal qualities or skills per se. Considering the starry lineup of instrumentalists (which some might consider an absolute waste of their talents), they must be both musically and spiritually dedicated to what's going on here. And what ii going on here? Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to say that listeners sympathetic to Eastern thought and in tune with both Olivier Messiaen and Lou Harrison will find King Gesar very appealing, particularly if they devoured records in the Nonesuch Explorer series when they were younger. Somehow, Lieberson's score transcends evaluations of its quality: neither good nor bad, it simply is. It has the quality of a sincere offering, and for that reason alone, it commands my respect. (I'm one of the few people I know who actually likes talking to Hare Krishnas in airports.) Although all the performers are transfigured by the white heat of spiritual communication, special mention must be made of narrator Omar Ebrahim. His speaking voice is sonorous, his chanting voice is clear as a mountain stream, and his singing voice is quite literally as true and unadorned as King Gesar'of Ling himself.

This is a most unusual and very highly recommended work and recording.

-- Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE [1/1997] Read less

Works on This Recording

King Gesar by Peter Lieberson
Performer:  Deborah Marshall (Bass Clarinet), Peter Serkin (Piano), Omar Ebrahim (Spoken Vocals),
András Adorján (Flute), Deborah Marshall (Clarinet), Yo-Yo Ma (Cello),
Emanuel Ax (Piano), William Purvis (French Horn), David Taylor (Trombone),
Stefan Huge (Percussion), András Adorján (Piccolo)
Conductor:  Peter Lieberson
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991-1992; USA 
Language: English 

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