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CD Review

Peter Lieberson

Raising the Gaze

  • Raising the Gaze
  • Drala *
  • Concerto for Four Groups of Instruments
  • Accordance
  • Three Songs
  • Ziji
  • Fire *
  • Free and Easy Wanderer **
ASKO Ensemble
* Cleveland Orchestra/Oliver Knussen
** London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
Deutsche Grammophon 457606-2 DDD 67:35
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This is the latest release in DG's 20/21 series. Peter Lieberson, the son of Goddard Lieberson, a former president of Columbia Records, and of dancer Vera Zorina, first attracted wide attention in 1983 with the première (and later the New World recording) of his Piano Concerto, written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor Seiji Ozawa, and pianist Peter Serkin. Lieberson lists Charles Wuorinen, Milton Babbitt, and Donald Martino as his musical mentors. Another influence in his life, and in his music, is Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, which he studied extensively, and for which he formed a study and meditation center (Shambhala Training) in Boston.

This 20/21 release is a "snapshot autobiography" of the composer, as it contains works written between 1972 and 1998. These are arranged in chronological order, with the exception of Drala, an orchestral work from 1986, and an appropriately pleasing opener for this CD.

One wonders, before hearing a note of Lieberson's music, what music a Buddhist composer raised on a gospel of serialism might write. Despite the fact that many of his works are named after Buddhist concepts or images, there's nothing self-consciously "Eastern" about his music. There is, however, a refined sensibility at work… and at play. Lieberson's sense of color, of gesture, and of form is heightened, and even his busiest moments feel calmly inevitable.

On this CD, Lieberson's development can be traced from the hectically pointillistic Concerto for Four Groups of Instruments (1972-73) – the composer had yet to find an individual voice here – to Free and Easy Wanderer (1998), in which points of sound have expanded to become interlocking tiles of varied shapes and sizes. In many ways, Lieberson's music remains a product of American academia in the 1960s and 1970s. It transcends this period only through his personal voice, which one feels would not have been heard were it not for his spiritual training and practice.

Knussen, a friend and colleague of the composer, leads affectionate performances of Drala and Fire (with the Cleveland Orchestra) and Free and Easy Wanderer (with the London Sinfonietta). Holland's ASKO Ensemble is responsible for the balance of the performances, some of them live, and all of them impressively accurate and communicative. The recordings, taped over the course of nearly five years, boast excellent sound.

Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle