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Neo-Romantic Beauty in Liebermann Violin Music Release

Liebermann: Works for Violin and Orchestra Aiman Mussakhajayeva, violin. Lowell Liebermann, piano. Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra/Tigran Shiganyan Blue Griffin Records 645 Total Time: 62:11 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

American composer Lowell Liebermann (b. 1962) is one of those Neo-Romanticists that carries on the traditions of composers like Barber and William Schumann. The musical harmonies stay tonal but with a more expanded palette that lends a touch of Bartokian angularity and dissonance. Exciting forward motion creates an additional audience connection amid his accessible musical language. His orchestral music can be quite colorful as well and some of that is on display in this new collection of works for violin.

The highlight here is a new recording is a reading of his 2001 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 74. Premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra by soloist Chantal Juillet, the work was hailed as an important new entry into the modern repertoire. Oddly though, no subsequent recording was made and this marks the world premiere on disc of the piece. The work is cast in three movements, played without pause, with a stunningly-beautiful central “Adagio” with intricate thematic writing and development. The outer movements provide opportunities for virtuosic display, the central one blending that with an operatic lyrical sensibility. The slow movement is quite disarming after the more atmospheric opening movement and it provides a gentle pause before the martial finale. The wind writing here is quite delightful as things move to an exciting conclusion. More careful familiarity will also begin to reveal specific motives and gestures that are transformed and then referenced again in this brilliant finale. Indeed, it is quite amazing that more violinists have not gravitated to exploring this work. The album closes with the Air, Op. 118 (2011) for violin and orchestra. A bit of the same style of the concerto’s central movement permeates here as well in another quite gorgeous work. Clear motivic ideas help provide a connective tissue to the work focusing here on tension between major and minor harmonic ideas. It makes for a moving finale to the release.

At the center of the album are two new arrangements of chamber concertos that Liebermann wrote in 1989 and 2006, respectively. The first of these, Op. 28a, has been expanded out string orchestra from its earlier smaller chamber roots. A dreamy piano arpeggio invites the listener into an almost magical atmosphere over which appears a gorgeous, lyrical violin line. The string ensemble provides a bit of interactive play of motives with interesting call and answer responses between soloist. A passacaglia wraps things up. The piece has a more modernist quality and features plenty of fine virtuosic passage work for soloists here. The second concerto, Op. 98a, is designed in a similar way with a bit more melancholy opening and a sorrowful reflective mood. The work is a sort of personal meditation after Liebermann learned that a close friend of his had died as he began work on this piece.

Violinist Aiman Mussakhajayeva proves to be a fine match for the pieces here. She has a rich, and warm tone that communicates the lyrical side of the pieces quite well. Technical passages are also handled quite well. The Kazakh State orchestra under conductor Tigran Shiganyan captures the rhythmic aspects and style of this music quite well. This is no doubt with the help of Shiganyan, who teaches at the Flint Institute of Music in Michigan, and is noted for his programming of American composers to regions throughout Central Asia. It also helps that the music’s echoes of mid-century Soviet era harmonic approaches can serve as an entry point into the music here for musicians unfamiliar with Liebermann’s style. There is some fine solo work throughout the concerto by winds especially and the string section also provides excellent support throughout. The performances feel quite polished and connected to the style and emotional expressiveness of this music.

Lovers of contemporary American music that also appreciate the sort of styles that have informed Liebermann’s own musical language will find a collection of music here that will warrant repeated listening. These are committed performances from what may seem like an unlikely source to the casual listener, but there is fine, intelligent musicmaking to be heard in this release that is well worth tracking down. The final Air is a poignant conclusion to an excellent new release.


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