Some terrific concertos from Peter Lieuwen make this MSR Classics new release a most welcome addition to the catalogue

Composer Peter Lieuwin (b. 1953) was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands and grew up in New Mexico. He studied at the University of New Mexico and the University of California, Santa Barbara with composers Scott Wilkinson, William Wood, Edward Applebaum, Emma Lou Diemer, and Peter Racine Fricker. From 1984 to 1987 he taught composition at UC Santa Barbara and since 1988 has been on the faculty of Texas A&M University. From 2000-2005 Lieuwen served as the inaugural head of the Department of Performance Studies at TAMU, where he is currently Professor of Music and Composer-in- Residence.

The music of Peter Lieuwen has been commissioned, performed and recorded by orchestras, ensembles and artists throughout the Americas and Europe. Many of Lieuwen’s compositions are impressions of nature and legend, infused with the kinetic rhythms of jazz and world music. His orchestral works have been performed by such orchestras as The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Slovak National Symphony, Orchestra of the Americas, National Orchestral Association, Georgian Chamber Orchestra (Germany), Grosseto Symphony Orchestra (Italy), Kozalin State Philharmonic (Poland), Leipzig Academic Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss, Musicfest International Orchestra (Wales), Orion Symphony Orchestra (UK) and the Orchestra of the Swan (UK).

Lieuwen has been the recipient of several awards and honours including First Prize in the Musicians Accord National Competition for Star (1986), First Prize in the CRS National Competition for Composer’s Recording for Anachronisms (1987), a National Orchestra Association "Second Presentation" Performance Award for Angelfire (1991), and First Prize in the Doc Severinsen International Composition Competition (2013).

Peter Lieuwen has enjoyed a rewarding musical relationship with the Aberystwyth International Music Festival in Wales as the featured composer (1995) and as Artist-in-Residence (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2005). His music has also been featured at the Lieksa Brass Festival in Finland (1990) and at many new music festivals throughout the US. The composer has received grants from Meet the Composer, Texas Composers Forum, and Texas A&M University.

MSR Classics have made a number of recordings of Lieuwen’s music, the latest release of which features World Premiere Recordings of his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Concerto for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra and Vivace for String Orchestra conducted by Franz Anton Krager coupled with his Romance for Violin, Cello and Piano.

Lieuwen’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2012) was written for the soloist on this disc, Nicholas Jones and first performed in the Great Hall of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Wales by the Orion Symphony Orchestra under Franz Anton Krager who on this recording directs the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra.

In two movements, Buoyant and animated brings repeated string phrases to which cellist Nicholas Jones joins in a fast moving theme which is developed with some beautifully luminescent textures through which the cello brings weaves its line. There are lovely orchestral harmonies, as before the cello continues to develop the theme, this cellist bringing fine phrasing in the little sprung rhythms. Often a sense of mystery is created in the gentler orchestral passages. The music rises through dramatic moments that blossom into lovely textures to which the cello adds its vibrantly sprung rhythmic textures.

A brass chorale gently opens the second movement, Broadly – Spirited to which the orchestra join in a lovely theme, full of gentle melancholy. The soloist quietly enters to develop the theme against a lovely orchestral backdrop. Again Lieuwen brings some very fine orchestral ideas, suddenly bringing drama, only to find a transparent and lighter texture. The soloist winds a lovely solo line through the orchestral textures finding subtly dissonant textures. Out of a sudden dramatic passage the soloist draws exquisite, heartfelt lines of great beauty, finding greater animation as the movement progresses. The music develops a greater forward propulsion though still finding orchestral passages that have a longer melodic flow. There is a cadenza in which Jones finds some fine textures as he works over the material. The orchestra re-join to find a light textured rhythmic pulse, rising up before a pizzicato string chord brings the coda.

This is a very fine, distinctive concerto.

The Romance for Violin, Cello and Piano (1994; revised 2010) takes as its theme a line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ It was first performed by violinist Andrej Grabiec , cellist Misha Quint and pianist Carlo Alessandro Lapegna at the Annenberg Presidential Center, Texas A & M University and it is those musicians that have recorded it here.

The piano brings a flowing theme to which the cello joins, adding a line over the piano theme. The violin joins to take the cello theme before they combine to weave the music ahead. Again there are Lieuwen’s distinctive dramatic surges before the trio arrive at a moment where they repeat a chord that leads into a delicate section where the piano flows around the string players. They become increasingly incisive, developing some dissonant phrases as the drama increases before moving into a more flowing section with lovely subtle little slides. There are more fine incisive string passages over lovely piano phrases before they rise through some vibrant passages still finding moments of poetry before a quiet coda.

The Vivace for String Orchestra (2010) received its world premiere on April 26, 2014 by the Texas A&M Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Sikes. It began life as the third movement of Lieuwen’s Sonata for Guitar before the composer realised how well it would translate into a work for string orchestra. Played here by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra it opens with a repeated theme and is soon overlaid by a flowing theme for violins which the whole orchestra takes forward. Lieuwen brings a lovely vibrancy as he varies the dynamics and textures. The music moves through some terrific passages as the strings swirl around before suddenly finding a calmer stance but there are more dynamic phrases before the coda arrives.

This is a terrific addition to the string orchestra repertoire.

Written for the Morales Brothers, pianist Leonel and marimba player Jesus, the Concerto for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra (2008) was premiered by them with the Texas Music Festival Orchestra conducted by Franz Anton Krager in 2010 in the Moores Opera House at the University of Houston, USA. It is the same artists that bring this premiere recording.

In three movements, the marimba announces the opening of the first, Fiery with a flourish before strings of the Texas Music Festival Orchestra take the theme forward with occasional marimba phrases, rising in dynamics. Soon the piano joins the orchestra adding some fine decorative lines, effectively taking up from the marimba flourishes and moving quickly ahead with lovely textures. Soon the piano takes the lead developing the theme through passages of increased drama before finding a steady flowing pulse for marimba and orchestra. The music slowly builds through a swirling string passage as the orchestra rises. Again Lieuwen finds some fine transparency through which the marimba is heard. Later the piano re-joins to add vibrant phrases, full of energy and fine flourishes, virtuosic at times, through a passage of fine expansiveness and breadth before a gentle coda.

With Placid the marimba brings a slow, gentle theme to which the piano and orchestra join bringing gentle little rising phrases. Lieuwen creates some lovely textures pointed up by tubular bells before moving through expansive, languid piano passages with the marimba adding some lovely touches, developing some lovely textures around which the orchestra add a lovely backdrop. Drums and brass arrive to add a jazzier development to which the marimba responds, then piano. Tam-tam herald a hushed passage before the piano joins, followed by woodwind, then strings and marimba as the coda is reached.

A syncopated rhythm for orchestra opens Incisive and spirited to which the marimba joins, slowly developing the repeated theme. The piano adds an incisive edge to which the marimba responds, the two soloists weaving around over the orchestral accompaniment. There are dynamic and expressive piano passages before the music becomes increasingly rhythmic and incisive. There are passages for marimba and piano that bring a lovely delicacy of texture. Midway, the piano brings some terrific moments full of expansive and often dissonant phrases. Indeed both soloists weave some terrific passages. Later there is a cadenza for piano and marimba as the two provide some stunning moments. Lieuwen has a fine ear for sonorities, both orchestral and instrumental. Soon the orchestra returns to bring the opening idea, now expanded. The soloists return over the orchestral idea to bring flourishes and phrases that drive the music forward to a dynamic coda.

What a terrific concerto this is, brilliantly played here.

This is a most welcome addition to the catalogue. Franz Anton Krager directs fine performances and there are spacious and vivid recordings made both in the USA and Slovakia. Peter Lieuwen’s booklet notes are especially welcome.