Lieberson Piano Concerto

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Lieberson Piano Concerto

  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra

Peter Lieberson's Piano Concerto is a big work, even for a 40-year-old American composer in his prime. It raises big issues, creates big problems, and not just because of its 40-minute length. The composerhs disillusionment with the attributes of avant-garde style may be understandable, but to tackle the consequences on such a large scale, and in a genre that can so easily set up so many associations with works as original as they are traditional, is to take a whole series of very considerable risks.
The biggest thing about the Concerto is its Buddhist subtext, since the three movements apparently reflect an interpretation od the Buddhist apprehension of earth, man and heaven. Those qualified to judge may believe that the music's inspiration matches this grand design. On a more mundane level, however, I can't feel that the music's inspiration matches either its length or its density.
Much of the time, textures are more substantial than ideas, and music in such a relatively traditional style needs motives, basic thematic elements which seize the listener's attention and force him to follow their evolutionary adventures, if it is not to seem pretentious or aimless. Whatever the strength of Lieberson's religious convictions, therefore, the purely musical sources of the Concerto simply do not seem vital enough, and some undeniably striking and inventive writing in the third movement cannot compensate for such a pervasive gap between reach and grasp.
A rather more clinical acoustic might have served the recording better. The performance seems adequate, without perhaps 'taking off' in the way the music ideally demands.'

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