Lieberson, P Neruda Songs
Not so long ago, “lush” and “romantic” were words that would never figure in a description of Peter Lieberson’s music. “Rigorous”, perhaps; “intellectually stimulating”, definitely. Of its integrity there was never any question. But deep down, the works were spun with the kind of cool brilliance that commands respect but rarely invites love. Then Lieberson met Lorraine Hunt, and for the next nine years – until her death from breast cancer in July last year – the Ice Man of music slowly melted.
Tributes to the mezzo-soprano have come in from all corners of the musical globe but none is more touching than The Neruda Songs, jointly commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and premiered only a year or so before her death. What makes this collaboration particularly poignant is that, like any offspring, one can find traits of both parents: Lieberson’s cerebral qualities are warmly humanised, Hunt Lieberson’s shimmering vocal sensuality restrained from over-indulgence. A colleague has described this as “Alban Berg meets Manuel de Falla” and I can do no better. These brilliantly crafted songs deserve all the attention they can get; after a respectful period of mourning, other singers need to pick up the mantle.
Clearly this piece is a big advancement for Lieberson. Encountering the Rilke Songs, the Liebersons’ first collaboration (Bridge), I noted a distinct spiritual connection, though part of me harboured the feeling that it was the singer humanising the music. Here the partnership is more palpably equal. The famously complex Lieberson now has the gift to be simple, and his future works bear watching. That spiritual connection comes around all too rarely and I hoped that it would be repeated. Unfortunately, at slightly more than 30 minutes, this recording is all we’ve got.