> Peter Lieberson [CT]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Peter LIEBERSON (b.1946)
Drala (1986) for orchestra
Concerto for Four Groups of Instruments (1972-73)
Accordance (1975-76) for Eight Instruments
Three Songs (1981) for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra
Ziji (1987) for Clarinet, Horn, String Trio and Piano
Raising The Gaze (1988) for Seven Instruments
Fire from "The Five Great Elements" (1994-95) for Large Orchestra
Free and Easy Wanderer (1998) for Chamber Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra
ASKO Ensemble
London Sinfonietta
Rosemary Hardy (soprano)
Directed by Oliver Knussen
Recorded: Den Haag, Dr. Anton Philipszall, 12/1994 (Accordance, Raising)
Cleveland, Severance Hall, 11/1995 (Drala) and 11/1996 (Fire)
Amsterdam, Waalse Kerk, 1/1997 (Concerto, Songs, Ziji)
London, Henry Wood Hall, 8/1998 (Wanderer) DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 20/21 457 606-2 [67:37]


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"Drala is probably Peter Liebersonís best known work, and if there is a more sheerly beautiful stretch of late 20th century music than its opening Invocation, I donít know it". So says Oliver Knussen in his booklet introduction to Liebersonís music. Itís a bold statement and I could name a few other works that could lay claim to the accolade but it is undeniable that Invocation is indeed captivating in its haunting beauty. So much so that I have continually returned to Drala since first listening to the disc.

A New Yorker, Lieberson studied with, amongst others Charles Wuorinen and Milton Babbitt, subsequently developing an interest and active involvement in Tibetan Buddhism, something which has had a profound influence on many of his works since. This disc is an anthology of his work spanning the twenty five years between 1972 and 1998, encompassing both orchestral and ensemble works and taking in a number of stylistic changes along the way, principally in his initially strict and later more relaxed use of the 12- tone system.

Drala sits very much at the centre of these works, written in 1986 to a commission from Seiji Ozawa. Taking as its starting point the form of a sadhana, a Buddhist meditation piece, Drala means quite literally "above war". At the centre of the opening Invocation are a dream like sequence of chords that pervade much of the work and can often be heard in various guises throughout the continuously played four movements. It is a work that immediately engages from the opening bars, coherent in its harmonic structure and luminously subtle in its orchestration and textural palette. Not unlike the music of Knussen in fact who has been an ardent champion of Liebersonís music.

The only other work for full orchestra on the disc, Fire, is the first and only existing instalment of a projected orchestral cycle, The Five Great Elements, based on the Tibetan elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. Originally asked to write a fanfare for the New York Philharmonic, the composer felt uninspired by the request instead producing a brief four minute orchestral showpiece, maybe not quite the fanfare requested but every bit as brilliant. Like a mini concerto for orchestra the piece condenses virtuosic writing for every section into its action packed time span with a calmer, more restrained passage at the central "eye of the storm".

The Concerto for Four Groups of Instruments is recognisable as the earliest work on the disc in that it is very audibly the most rigorous in its twelve-tone organisation. As the composer himself points out, after this work he became rather dissatisfied with the pointillist style of his earlier music and whilst not wishing to abandon the hard won techniques of his twelve tone compositions, looked to create a richer, warmer sound world. Accordance and Free and Easy Wanderer are perhaps the best examples of this change, both pieces exploring the idea of "harmonic stations", visited and revisited, and once again binding the works structurally. In contrast, Ziji (scored for clarinet, horn string trio and piano), the title meaning brilliance or the energy of confidence, is an exercise in intuitive composition, the material all springing from the energetic opening gesture. Raising the Gaze, whilst inspired by Lieberson hearing a set of medieval dances on the radio, refers to a point in meditation practice whereby the downcast gaze can quite literally be raised to include external influences. Like Ziji, the result is an exuberant instrumental study, highly concentrated in its energy but this time driven by a prominent part for percussion. The brief Three Songs of 1981 set poems by Douglas Penick, a friend of the composer who later wrote the librettos for his operas King Gesar (1991-92) and Ashokaís Dream (1997). Rosemary Hardy is accomplished as the soprano soloist, with the first of the songs, "Listen and Hear" being particularly memorable for its haunting, nocturnal beauty.

The Deutsche Grammophon 20/21 series is rapidly building into a valuable and impressive collection of contemporary classics. Without exception they are superbly packaged, the single discs all coming in three way opening cases, with comprehensive, exceptionally informative, booklet notes that give a fine insight into the relevant composerís work. In this particular case Liebersonís finely crafted music is a highly worthwhile addition to the series, the performances and recordings beyond criticism, possibly even definitive. A disc that I would recommend with all possible enthusiasm and one to which I shall be returning regularly.

Christopher Thomas.


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