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Lowell LIEBERMANN (b.1961)
Sonata no.1, for cello and piano, op.3 (1978) [9:33]
Sonata no.2, for cello and piano, op.61 (1998) [16:59]
Album Leaf, for cello and piano, op.66 (1999) [2:42]
Sonata Semplice (Sonata no.3), for cello and piano, op.90 (2005) [17:48]
Sonata no.4, for cello and piano, op.108 (2008) [14:25]
Dmitri Atapine (cello)
Adela Hyeyeon Park (piano)
rec. The Ballroom Studio, Blue Griffin, Lansing, Michigan, USA, 13-14 July 2011.
BLUE GRIFFIN BGR255 [61:27] 

Despite the recent dates of these works, this is in many ways an old-school kind of disc. There are no gimmicks, no high-fives to post-modernity, just well recorded, well played cello sonatas. For all their complexity and virtuosity, these speak to audiences brought up on their great 20th-century cognates like those of Rachmaninov, Martinů and indeed Lowell Liebermann's fellow American, Samuel Barber.
 
Liebermann's cello sonatas are all single-movement works that are concise yet passionate, consummately tonal yet often jaw-droppingly pyrotechnic and inventive. Four is an unusual number, as the notes point out - very few composers have written more than one or two since Beethoven. There is no obvious explanation as to the why - like Beethoven (and Vivaldi) before him, Liebermann reveals the cello sonata to be an ideal vehicle for expressing a full spectrum of emotion and rigorous intellectual depth. These are at the very least on a par with his Flute Sonata op.23, which is surely the most frequently recorded of any by a living composer - getting on for twenty recordings.
 
The introspectively enigmatic Album Leaf serves as a short interlude between the earlier and later pairs of works. The following Sonata Semplice is anything but simple, though it does come with its own supply of memorable, rather melancholic tunes, one of which is Gounod's famous Ave Maria pared back to Bach's underlying Prelude in C - before, that is, the music typically explodes with dark, primal energy. The last sonata (to date) was written for and premiered at Wigmore Hall in London in 2010 by 15-year-old British cello prodigy Joel Sandelson, but the calm opening is misleading. Liebermann actually makes no concessions to the dedicatee's young age. In fact, he goes as far to make even the emotional demands extraordinary.
 
By all accounts, Sandelson gave a splendid account of the work, and that is certainly true of Nevada University-based Dmitri Atapine and Adela Hyeyeon Park. Faced with relentlessly exacting scores, there is nowhere to hide for either of them, but the friendly confidence they radiate on the cover is entirely justified, such is their technique, sensitivity, belief in the music and teamwork. Liebermann could hardly wish for better advocates. Indeed, Atapine's programme notes, informative and well written, reveal a performer who is extremely appreciative of the composer's incontestable musical fertility.
 
Sound quality is very good indeed. The booklet biographies, it must be said, are rather US-centric, happy to reel off names that will draw a blank with most - "such luminaries as David Shifrin, Alan Kay, Toby Appel, Paul Neubauer, Donald Weilerstein, Amit Peled and Paul Katz". All in all though, this CD is a must for all admirers of great cello music, doubling up as a brilliant introduction to a composer still nowhere near as well known as he ought to be.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 

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