Peter Lieberson: "Rilke Songs," "The Six Realms," & Horn Concerto. Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, mezzo-soprano, Peter Serkin, piano; Michaela Fukacova, violoncello, Odense Sym. Orch., Justin Brown, cond.; & William Purvis, horn, Odense Sym. Orch., Donald Palma, cond. Bridge Records 9178, TT 63:04, ©2006, $14.99, http://www.bridgerecords.com/.
The works on this CD were composed in the 1997-2001 time period, all of them having been commissions. The vocal one was created for and dedicated to the composer's wife, the singer on this recording, which is a live performance from the 2004 Ravinia Festival. The texts were chosen because Rilke was the composer's mother's favorite poet; they are sonnets to Orpheus, the mythological musician and singer. The melodic line fluidly follows and even caresses the text while the piano sometimes has its own melodic line or sometimes emphasizes the vocal one in standard lieder fashion – although these songs are as far removed from the Romantic lieder in style as the texts are in content. There is much more suggestion than neat resolution in this music. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Peter Serkin give a committed, dramatic, and indeed riveting interpretation.
"The Six Realms," a six-movement concerto for amplified cello and orchestra, was composed for Yo-Yo Ma as a contribution to his Silk Road Project. The realms are those of Tibetan Buddhism, which Lieberson practices and is an expert interpreter of: the Hell, Hungry Ghost, Animal, Human, God and Jealous God realms (these last two combined into a single movement), which are a portrait of human consciousness. The work opens with a sort of prelude or introduction entitled "The Sorrow of the World." The music is therefore somewhat programmatic, by turns exotic, evocative, and meditative, but it does not quote Tibetan folk music directly. Themes and elements appear, recur, and serve as links creating a unity and a cyclical effect.
The two-movement horn concerto was written for the soloist playing here and the reduced orchestral forces of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The strings are doubled in this recording, however. The music, which is very lyrical with occasional dance-like, swing rhythms and jazzy touches, gives the horn player ample room to display his impressive talents.
All the music could perhaps best be characterized as modern lyricism: there is nothing dissonant or experimental here. Yet it is at the same time very different from traditional melody-dominated Western material without really being Eastern either in spite of that evident influence. It is eminently listenable, but the experience also benefits from close attention and repeated hearings. The performances are excellent, as is the sound quality, although this listener would have preferred that the applause following the "Rilke Songs" had been edited out since there is none elsewhere. While each work is dominated by one of the traditions, sources, or influences mentioned above, they can all be felt at times in all of them, so their compilation on this CD has a unity that goes beyond its being simply a sampler of Lieberson's recent work.
The booklet is likewise a truly fine production. It opens with notes by Lieberson about the pieces, followed by the texts and English translations of the "Rilke Songs," followed in turn by Robert Kirzinger's excellent bio of Lieberson. Artist bios in performance order come next, and recording and production credits follow, with a dedication to the composer's mother, Brigitta Lieberson-Wolfe (aka ballerina Vera Zorina) concluding it. Track listings and timings are given only on the tray card. There are numerous black and white photos throughout the booklet, and the simple but beautiful color photo of Peter Lieberson and Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, composer and his muse, on the cover will make this CD a treasured memento for all.
With the singer's recent passing, this recording will seem to many to be her bequest, her final legacy. Perhaps it will prove to be her penultimate one if a recording of one of her recent performances of the final song cycle inspired by and composed for her, the "Neruda Songs," was made and is deemed satisfactory enough for release. On the basis of the "Rilke Songs" and the reports in the press, this writer sincerely hopes this is the case.