Lieberson: Piano Concerto No.2
Peter Lieberson’s Second Piano Concerto (1999) is named after a mythological bird that flies continuously, and appropriately the work’s momentum never lets up over its 25-minute course. Both orchestrally and harmonically there are reminiscences of Messiaen, though its ornate fabric and bright swirls of colour do not disguise the fact that the piece is a sequence of gestures rather than developmental.
Peter Serkin commits himself to the free-flying piano part, as he does also to the three 1985 Bagatelles for solo piano, of which only the third, ‘The Dance’, stays airborne throughout its three-minute span.
Serkin, in fact, is on hand for all items, the most desirable for many likely to be the Rilke Songs (1997-2001), sung by the composer’s late wife, mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Her voice dominates the recording of these five settings, more traditional than the other works here, with clear antecedents in Brahms as well as the Second Viennese School, though her singing proves more remarkable than the material itself.
The best piece on the disc is the 2003 Piano Quintet, played by its original performers, whose use of the distinctive rhythms of Cape Breton fiddle music give it a profile some of Lieberson’s other music lacks. George Hall