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Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs

Peter LiebersonOf all the commissions requested for the 125th anniversary season of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the most anticipated has been a song cycle based on the poetry of Pablo Neruda by American composer Peter Lieberson. Neruda Songs, jointly commission by the BSO and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was premiered in L.A. in March and received its east coast premiere this weekend on a concert that also featured Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks by Strauss, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The new work was performed by mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the composer’s wife, for whom the piece was written.

Lorraine Hunt LiebersonLieberson set five of Neruda’s love poems in the original Spanish with a striking and refreshing harmonic language that is primarily tertian. Abstract but never unappealing, the songs are constructed such that the mezzo line weaves in and out of the texture and does not compete with the orchestra. The only pitfall occurs in the fourth song of five, when Leiberson gives in, lets the maracas take over, and with a blatant Latin groove, disrupts the charm and balance of the piece, only to settle back into his obvious and naturally elegant writing in the closing movement. Hunt Lieberson’s singing is clear and beautiful, her Spanish luxuriant, and her presence commanding.

Other Reviews:

Richard Dyer, Lieberson's voice, husband's music make lovely pairing (Boston Globe, November 26)

David Cleary, BSO finds singers in fine voice, short supply (Boston Herald, November 26)

Anthony Tommasini, Love, Neruda and the Mezzo Who Returned to the Spotlight (New York Times, November 26)
Mahler’s delicate Symphony No. 4 featured soprano Heidi Grant Murphy in the last movement. Grant Murphy was called in at the last minute to replace Dorothea Röschmann, who cancelled citing a family emergency. James Levine stated in a program insert announcing the change in lineup that Röschmann and Grant Murphy are “the only sopranos” he calls to perform this work; however, it was unfortunately obvious that Grant Murphy was incapable of cutting across the orchestra. In addition, her over-affected performance and extraordinarily tense facial contortions distracted from the beauty of the writing and sensitivity of the orchestra’s playing. Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks opened the performance with a romp - the horn section and its first chair, James Sommerville, led the charge.

On Monday, November 28, the Boston Symphony will be presenting this same program at Carnegie Hall in New York. On March 11, the BSO will perform the Lieberson in Washington, D.C., while on a tour of the northeast.

See also Alex Ross, News good and bad (The Rest Is Noise, November 29).

1 comment:

jfl said...

the rumors of her bouts with breast cancer (not a back injury, as is the official version) apparently helped to see the performance in an even more earie, haunting light.