Written for his wife, who performs them here with full and varied tone combined with sensitivity to both text and line, Peter Lieberson’s Rilke Songs (1997-2001) represent a modern recreation of the tradition of German Romantic song. As such, they are influenced by and obliquely refer to such exemplars as Schumann, Brahms and Berg. But there is no sense of pastiche, and the results – sometimes rich, sometimes spare – are always articulate. Peter Serkin imaginatively sets off the finely conceived accompaniments against the vocal line, conveying both their sweep and their detail.
They are the best things here. The concerto for amplified cello and orchestra (1999-2000) derives its inspiration from states of consciousness outlined in Tibetan Buddhism, of which Lieberson himself is an expert practitioner; but the result, while demonstrating a sense of instrumental and orchestral colour, lacks direction.
The 1998-99 Horn Concerto, a relatively lightweight piece deploying the lighter textures of a chamber orchestra accompaniment, varies from the amiable to the anodyne in its musical ideas. Both pieces are effectively played, but it’s the songs and their memorable performances that pinpoint the area where Lieberson’s gifts find their fullest expression. George Hall