I have already reviewed with enthusiasm the second
and third (review pending) volumes of Peter Lieberson’s music in what now apparently is a series by Bridge Records. When the disc under review was released, it was designated only by its contents, as was the second in the series. The latest volume, which I recently reviewed, is called Volume 3 and the two earlier releases are listed on the back of the CD booklet as Volumes 1 and 2. My hope is that there will be many more to come.
As I noted in my review of the second volume, containing Red Garuda
(Piano Concerto No. 2), the Rilke Songs
recorded there were different, studio accounts of the pieces from the ones on this first volume. The Rilke Songs
on this CD are taken from a performance at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. Peter Lieberson, in a note in the disc’s booklet, refers to these settings of Rilke’s Sonnets of Orpheus
as “love songs even though they are not overtly about love”. Instead, they cover a much broader canvas, from creation to humankind’s relation to nature and the universe. To Lieberson, the “Rilkean insights are gifts of love”. Indeed, they are gifts that the composer gave to the love of his life, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. They provoke powerful feelings and Hunt Lieberson is the perfect vehicle through which to express them. Both this recording and the later studio one are definitive, as there is little difference between them. One’s preference will largely be determined by the works with which the songs are coupled on the discs.
In addition to vocal music, Lieberson devoted an important part of his career to composing concertos for various instruments: three piano concertos, a viola concerto, a Concerto for Cello with Accompanying Trios
, and the two orchestral works on this CD. He was in the process of composing a percussion concerto, but completed only the short score before his death in April 2011. The Horn Concerto
was commissioned by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for one of its two principal hornists, William Purvis, who recorded it here. As Lieberson notes, the string size has been doubled for symphony orchestra. Otherwise, the orchestral complement is modest: two flutes, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons with the second doubling contrabassoon, and only one horn besides the solo horn. In two movements of roughly equal length, the concerto contains a variety of moods from lyrical to whimsical and gives the solo horn plenty of opportunity to shine. There are long melodic passages followed by rhythmic, technically challenging ones. The woodwinds are not put to any disadvantage in this performance utilizing a body of strings larger than that of a chamber orchestra, and the solo horn dominates throughout. William Purvis’s superb performance is undoubtedly authoritative and the orchestra accompanies well.
In contrast to the Horn Concerto
, the cello concerto, The Six Realms
for amplified cello and orchestra is scored for a large orchestra with extra percussion. Yo Yo Ma asked Lieberson to contribute a work that reflected the composer’s longtime practice of Tibetan Buddhism, which would tie in with the cellist’s Silk Road Project. Lieberson’s first thought was “to compose a piece that reflected principles of Tibetan Buddhism rather than build a piece on quotations of Tibetan folk music or something of that nature,” according to the composer’s note. He seems to have stuck with that notion, though much of the solo cello has a very Eastern flavour. He does not explain why he amplified the cello part. Could it have been to better balance the large orchestra, or to enhance the Eastern quality of the solo part? In any case, it is very effective. The concerto is comprised of the following six realms as described in Buddhism: “The Sorrow of the World”, “The Hell Realm”, “The Hungry Ghost Realm”, “The Animal Realm”, “The Human Realm” and “The God Realm and the Jealous God Realm.” Lieberson describes the work as a concerto where “the portrait of the six realms is initiated and guided by the solo cello”; and he wanted “to give the cello a variety of music, while always emphasizing a lyric quality and the melodic line.” The work is generally rather dark and dense, but this darkness is leavened by a lighter, “folksy” — as Lieberson refers to it — tune first heard on the cello at the end of the hell realm, as it is transformed from a sorrowful melody into this lighter tune. The tune then precedes the following movements as “a kind of passport to the next realm” first on the solo horn and then cello. The animal realm opens with the tune as a tuba solo, and very effectively so. The movements play without breaks and the concerto concludes quietly with “a return perhaps to a more human realm,” as stated by the composer. Of Lieberson’s large-scale orchestral works, in particular his concertos, I find this most memorable and really quite moving. I would love to have heard Yo Yo Ma’s performance with the Toronto Symphony under Jukka-Pekka Saraste, who premiered the piece, but Michaela Fukacova and the Odense Symphony have the measure of the music and leave little to be desired.
In addition to Lieberson’s own lucid notes on the works, there is a shorter set about the composer by Robert Kirzinger and biographical sketches of the artists. The recorded sound, both for the live performance and those in the studio is consistently excellent.
I eagerly await further volumes in this series.