Notes and Editorial Reviews
“Accessible” composers come in two kinds. One gives an alluring sheen and a surprising twist to already-familiar materials: Eric Whitacre is a fine example. The other, however, clears a path through thickets of musical complexity, allowing a listener to examine a rich aural landscape with an unobstructed view. Of that type, Peter Lieberson, in America, is nonpareil. Bridge Records, long supportive of the composer, offers a new release consisting entirely of performances by the superlative Peter Serkin, Lieberson’s piano muse for some three decades. Serkin’s playing furls a veil of serenity over a fiercely expressive core, which in the Rilke Songs is a perfect foil for the singing of the beloved Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, with its lush
colorings and classical poise. (This album’s studio performance, unlike the concert version, is new to CD.) The remaining works — the 1999 piano concerto Red Garuda (backed by James Conlon and a take-charge New York Philharmonic), the more recent Piano Quintet (with the bright and committed Orion String Quartet), and the lovely, lilting solo Bagatelles, from 1985 — all combine influences of Stravinsky and Schoenberg in relaxed and rewarding ways that eluded a previous generation of more academically-minded composers. Look out for the bits of Cape Breton fiddling in the Quintet!
-- Russell Platt, Listen Magazine
Peter Serkin (pn);
James Conlon, cond; New York PO ;
Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson (ms);
Orion Str Qrt
BRIDGE 9317 (68:20) (Quintet: live: November 18–20, 2004)
Peter Lieberson (b.1946) writes in a style that I would call “personal Romantic modernist.” His pieces have enormous rhythmic energy and intricacy, in a way that recalls the music of Charles Wuorinen (one of his teachers), but there’s always a deep lyric yearning that manifests itself somewhere in almost every one of his works. At times it comes out in a form that’s close to late 19th-century chromatic tonality, as in his
(which I’ve reviewed in
30:5) and in the
in this collection.
This is in fact a gathering together of some pieces that have already been released, but in collections. The bagatelles in this recording were originally released on a New World disc with music of Wolpe and Stravinsky, and the
have already appeared on Bridge (see my review in
30:2), but in a live concert performance from Chicago’s Ravinia festival. Just as importantly, it’s a testimony to the scrupulous artistry of Peter Serkin, who appears in all four pieces. Serkin has been a consistent advocate and stimulus for Lieberson’s music, and along with the composer’s late wife, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, has been his other important muse.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 (1999) is subtitled “Red Garuda,” denoting an Asian mythological bird. (Lieberson has been a devoted Tibetan Buddhist for decades, and in fact spent a chunk of his professional life as a director of Shambhala training.) The work has the aforementioned rhythmic drive, and indeed, is throbbing and pounding throughout much of its course. But its middle movement opens into a far more expansive, mystical realm that I find ravishing.
The same parsing goes for the bagatelles, whose central movement (of three) I find again moving in its deep contemplative quality. The
are impressive, in part because they are so expertly crafted that they make me forget how much they feel like the music of a contemporary of Hugo Wolff or Strauss. They’re ultimately very moving, and a large part of their success also is due (at least so far) to the extraordinary artistry of Hunt-Lieberson. Every one of the precious few recordings we have of her work is a treasure. The 2003 Piano Quintet is a feat of contrapuntal intricacy and plays out like a high-stakes basketball game, but it doesn’t move me as much as the other pieces on this program.
Lieberson is a stylistic moderate in that he doesn’t tend much toward the extremes of the field (serialist, experimentalist, minimalist, postmodernist, etc.). As such the music is more familiar in its very serious “classical” rhetoric. But it also never panders, and bespeaks an artist who knows his mind and spirit, and remains resolutely committed to his course. I admire his integrity, and particularly value the moments in his work when time opens up to allow beauty room to flower.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Rilke Songs (5) by Peter Lieberson
Peter Serkin (Piano),
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 2001; USA
Bagatelles for Piano by Peter Lieberson
Peter Serkin (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1985; USA
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