Frankenstein - Lowell Liebermann. © 2021 Reference Recordings

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Dance Music

Lowell Liebermann's ballet 'Frankenstein', heard by GERALD FENECH

'... an electrifying aura ...'


Born in New York on 22 February 1961, Lowell Liebermann is today regarded as one of the foremost American composers. His fame as a fine pianist and conductor also continues to add weight to his many talents and achievements. Aged sixteen, Liebermann performed at Carnegie Hall, playing his Piano Sonata, Op 1. He studied at the Juilliard School of Music with two renowned contemporaries, David Diamond and Vincent Persichetti, gaining Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees. The English composer-pianist K S Sorabji also expressed interest in Liebermann's early work, having praised the young composer's Piano Sonata in a private exchange between the two. Indeed, the composer's Piano Concerto, Op 12, was dedicated to Sorabji.

Liebermann also found favour in the recording studio, and his Flute Sonata (1987) and the 'Gargoyles' for piano (1989) are his most recorded works. With these two works, one can safely add the Flute Concerto (1992). Other notable compositions are a sonata for flute and guitar (1988), four cello sonatas, the second piano concerto (1992), the opera The Picture of Dorian Gray (1996), a second symphony (2000), a trumpet concerto (also 2000) and a violin concerto (2001). Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra (2001) and the opera Miss Lonelyhearts (2006) also date from this fertile period. This latter opera was commissioned as part of the festivities surrounding the centenary of the Juilliard School.

Liebermann's music combines elements of traditional tonality and structure with more daring harmonies. Often using a highly polytonal style, the composer constantly explores different bitonal possibilities in many of his pieces, and this mixture seems to have attracted many admirers. Liebermann still resides in his native New York, and he presently serves on the composition faculty at Mannes College The New School for Music and is the director of the Mannes American Composers Ensemble.

The composer also wrote a ballet Frankenstein (2016), and that is what this double CD set is all about. This Reference issue is the first audio recording of the complete score to Liam Scarlett's ballet adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic novel of 1818, which has fascinated readers ever since. Entitled Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus, the story is a combination of gothic horror and science fiction. The protagonist Victor Frankenstein, the prototypical 'mad scientist', creates an artificial man from pieces of corpses and brings his creature to life. Though it initially longs for affection, the monster inspires loathing in all who meet it. Lonely and crazed with revenge, the monster turns upon its creator and destroys him.

Listen — Lowell Liebermann: Victor and the Creature (Frankenstein)
(CD2 track 20, 2:46-3:43) ℗ 2021 San Francisco Ballet Association :

Not much of a subject for a ballet, but Liebermann and Scarlett have created a truly modern three-Act masterpiece that keeps you rooted to your seat. The choreography by Scarlett has come in for high praise, but the music is terrific, and it is this element that concerns us here.

Listen — Lowell Liebermann: The Frankenstein Manor (Frankenstein)
(CD1 track 2, 0:00-0:58) ℗ 2021 San Francisco Ballet Association :

Indeed, Liebermann's inspirational vein shines from beginning to end, and the emotional power of his music simply carries all before it. The story is punctuated by several episodes expressing anger, suffering, regret, wishfulness and, above all, love, but Liebermann's gift of communicating such volatile human emotions is consistently alive.

Listen — Lowell Liebermann: Justine Solo (Frankenstein)
(CD2 track 8, 0:24-1:24) ℗ 2021 San Francisco Ballet Association :

This is, to all intents and purposes, dance music, but behind it there lurks the dark side of the unknown in Victor's tormented mind, so pungently expressed in the composer's superlative creation. Recorded live from the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, the performance has an electrifying aura about it, with Martin West ensuring that the balance between the dramatic and the lyrical is tightly kept. Despite the unsavoury story, this is music that takes you into a world of its own. Just try it.

Copyright © 13 December 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta







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