CD OF THE MONTH
There is no way this
recording will ever be redundant, because
itís "more" than just a recording.
It is a talisman, for itís a testament
to the love between Peter and Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson.. As everyone will know
by now, Lorraine Lieberson passed away
in July 2006, and Peter Lieberson is
presently in hospital in Houston. There
is just no getting round the fact that
these songs cannot be heard without
being aware of the context. In any case
it would be churlish to dismiss the
fact that our response is coloured by
this knowledge, because that knowledge
pervades the composition and the performance.
The Liebersons knew itís all about imminent
death, as does nearly everyone involved.
Death is something weíll all face one
day, so itís a good thing that this
performance makes us face up to that
reality and learn from them how they
dealt with it.
Some years ago Hunt
Lieberson sang a shocking re-interpretation
of Bachís Ich habe genug. This
was shortly after the deaths of her
mother and sister from cancer, and was
intended as to raise awareness about
the illness. More importantly, from
an artistic point of view, it was a
radical new approach to the spirit of
the Bach cantata, re-affirming its spiritual
message about renewal through faith.
There is also no need for anything else
to be on this recording. These new songs,
to texts by Pablo Neruda, connect in
their own way to that fascinating, but
controversial interpretation, which
some consider one of the singerís finest
Short this recording
may be, but so is life. Anyone who feels
short changed because they donít get
80 minutes for the price of the disc
needs a soul transplant. This is much
more than a performance, itís a human
document. It is completely unique. Of
course, itís a memorial to a remarkable
personality and singer, but it "gives"
something of value to the listener because
itís so intensely personal and courageous.
The booklet is stark and unadorned by
anything but essentials. On the front
is a photograph of Lorraine beaming
defiantly. Inside, thereís another of
her moments later, still smiling, but
her eyes closed. And then, on the back
cover, only black.
As Alex Ross says in
his notes, this is "music of uncommon
refinement, from which everything extraneous
has been taken away". The voice
jumps straight in with a unsentimental,
matter-of-fact directness. These songs
celebrate life, not death, and the power
of love to overcome all obstacles. "Everything
is alive so that I can be alive, Ö..
in your life I see everything that lives".
She sings that last phrase with delicious
fire. The accompaniment is spare, but
sensual. High strings are balanced by
the deeper notes of a harp. In the second
song, the mood is of spaciousness, the
strings shimmering as if to capture
the stars and open air in the poem.
"Thereís nothing here but light,
quantities, clusters, space opened by
the graces of the wind". The voice
part isnít adorned, but floats above
the accompaniment. In contrast, the
third song confronts fear and loss.
Itís eerily quiet, anxiety rising despite
the poetís attempt to suppress it. The
last word, "moriendo" (dying)
is repeated several times over as if
the singer is contemplating what will
happen. Yet, again, itís more dignified
and firm than sentimental. The imagery
in the fourth song is restful and almost
dreamlike, the words "Amor!"
repeated lovingly. Yet the strings tell
a different story: they are starker,
entering with greater force, though
a simple little figure pushes the movement
ahead. It ends abruptly. Then, comes
the magnificent final song, where the
poet confronts death and separation.
Chill strings shimmer, like the "vague
wind swept on us, like sailing seeds".
But itís the final strophe thatís most
moving. "Love doesnít end, goes
the poem, because it has no birth, it
has no death. Ö It is like a long river,
only changing hands, and changing lips".
As if the composer cannot bear to end
the song, he repeats the verse again,
and then the last line, and then, simply
"Amor Ö amor Ö. amor".
These songs are surprisingly
performable, so no doubt one day, there
will be other performances, and people
will squabble over the "best"
version, as quite likely this recording
will be surpassed. But frankly, thatís
irrelevant. What makes this recording
special is that it is an artistic testament
by two brave human beings confronting
imminent separation and turning their
anxieties into something which can,
perhaps, help others when they, too,
face such situations.