LIEUWEN Cello Concerto.1 Romance for Violin, Cello, and Piano.2 Vivace for String Orchestra.3 Concerto for Piano and Marimba4 • 1, 3, 4Franz Anton Krager, cond; 2Andrzej Grabiec (vn); 1Nicholas Jones, 2Misha Quint (vc); 4Leonel Morales, 2Carlo Alessandro Lapegna (pn); 4Jesus Morales (mmb); 1, 3Slovak Natl SO; 4Texas Music Festival O • MSR 1582 (63:59)
Every second or third issue of Fanfare, I get wind of some new release that I desire to review to the point that I send a plea to our esteemed editor to allow me to do so. He usually obliges me, unless he’s promised the disc to another reviewer. Why do I make such requests? For two reasons: I want to acquire another CD by a composer I particularly like, and also because I prefer to write positive reviews to negative ones. The latter are a necessary thing when there is some deficient parameter (or combination thereof) resident in a particular disc, and I keenly feel my obligation to warn off prospective purchasers from its purchase. However, each time I write a negative review, I feel my late mother’s counsel about not saying anything about someone if I can’t say something nice twinge my conscience. So, long story short, I wanted to review this CD because I knew very well in advance that I’d be giving it a positive review, and here it is, succinctly: This is a great CD. Go out and buy it. Want more? Well, keep reading!
The opening Cello Concerto is scored for a typical Classical-era orchestra, lacking low brass and percussion apart from timpani. It begins with repeated gestures in the upper strings that provide a light and airy canvas upon which the solo cellist paints a lovely portrait. The woodwinds, also in their upper registers, provide commentary on the proceedings with quick figuration and trills, adding to the scintillation that is Lieuwen’s trademark. Tonally, the work is spun out of the octatonic scale, which alternates semitones and whole tones. Oddly enough, the booklet refers to this scale with a name, the dissonant diminished scale, that I got through three degrees in music without ever having heard. Well, take your pick. The second movement slows things down dramatically, beginning with sustained chords in the upper brass (there’s no lower brass in the work, as you’ll recall). Before long, the cello enters with a soulful line placed over a rather busy (for a slow movement) accompaniment. All taken together, the effect is simply gorgeous as Lieuwen once again displays his mastery of harmonic movement. The third movement is linked to the second, and eschews flashy virtuosity, even though the tempo picks up a good bit. It also incorporates a cadenza and a “surprise” ending, the novelty of which I’ll let the curious reader discover for himself. I will note that the timings for the two tracks of the concerto are reversed on the tray card. Cellist Nicholas Jones, for whom this work was written, plays with aplomb, bringing off the work most splendidly.
Lieuwen’s Romance for Violin, Cello, and Piano was written in 1994 and revised only in 2010. The work springs out of a quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The two strings in this work seem to represent two lovers who intertwine and comment upon each other’s murmurings. The piano provides a rhythmic support of regular pulse in quasi-Minimalist fashion. Gradually, the dissonance increases—is this a lover’s spat?—with figures thrown back and forth between the three instruments with ever-increasing vehemence. All of the activity winds down at the end of the piece, with a seeming (if a bit unsettled due to the ambiguous concluding sonority) reconciliation. The trio plays with precision and passion, leaving nothing to be desired in the performance.
Vivace for String Orchestra is an arrangement of the third movement of Lieuwen’s Guitar Sonata (reviewed by yours truly in 36:4). The arrangement was precipitated by the composer’s realization of what a “symphonic” instrument the guitar really was. If this piece is any evidence, his theory is true, as this piece works very well in this garb. On the other hand, in re-listening to the movement in its original solo guitar setting, it really is quite a different piece—the figuration has been adjusted a good bit, and the piece has been expanded by about a minute and a half too—but it is equally effective in both versions.
There have been a good number of concertos for piano and some other instrument sharing the solo spotlight. I think of Carter’s Double Concerto wherein piano and harpsichord share the honors, Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto (with violin), and even one by Martinů for piano trio and string orchestra. However, I cannot remember ever coming across one for piano, marimba, and orchestra previously, but Lieuwen had a compelling reason to write for this combination—to write a showpiece for the gifted Cuban Morales brothers. Leonel is a brilliant pianist and Jesus a virtuoso on marimba. May I say that this combination is a stroke of genius, so well does it work. I’ve heretofore used the term “scintillating” to describe Lieuwen’s music, but here he virtually defines the word through this music, and the result is glorious to behold. If his harmonies are wondrous in other pieces, they are even more stunning here, and ditto for his textural tone-painting. This work, one of my favorite works of many strong contenders from this composer, is alone worth the price of the disc, and playing of the Morales brothers and Franz Anton Krager’s orchestral support cannot be too highly praised.
So, presuming you took my exhortation early on in this review and bought this CD, get it into your CD player and enjoy! If not, hie thee to a record store, and—oh sorry, I forgot—those don’t exist anymore. In any case, a very likely entry on my next Want List.
David DeBoor Canfield