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Lowell Liebermann: Frankenstein

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra/Martin West (Reference Recordings)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

Lowell Liebermann
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra/Martin West
Reference Recordings RR-148   119:28 mins (2 discs)


When British choreographer Liam Scarlett received the commission for Frankenstein, a co-production between the Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, choosing a composer was easy. American composer Lowell Liebermann’s chamber music is highly respected (his Flute Sonata is considered among the best) and Scarlett had already set three of his piano works (Gargoyles, Euphotic andViscera) to dance. Sadly, the period setting for this version of Mary Shelley’s gruesome classic appears to have diminished Liebermann’s usual prowess – the score to Scarlett’s first full-length ballet is more gauche than gothic.

This recording was captured at a live performance at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco in 2018, following on from the ballet’s premiere at Covent Garden in 2016. Like all good composers, Liebermann can write to a brief (he once wrote a piano duet on behalf of Steinway for the marriage of the pianists Lang Lang and Gina Alice Redlinger) and naturally a stage work sets certain parameters. But the slushy neo-Romantic style fails to capture the terror of, say, the anatomy theatre, nor the deathly final act (transferred by Scarlett from the Arctic to the mansion).

Frankenstein was due to be performed by the Royal Danish Ballet in the spring of 2022, but was cancelled amid complaints and press reports about Scarlett’s alleged misconduct during his tenure at the Royal Ballet. Though an independent investigation found no evidence of criminal activity, Scarlett resigned from the Royal Ballet and committed suicide in 2021, aged 35. San Francisco Ballet dedicates this recording to Scarlett, ‘whose creative genius was an inspiration to us all.’

Claire Jackson

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