Liebermann: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Concerto for Flute and Orchestra. Eugenia Zukerman, flute; Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Delos DE 3256.

It took long enough, but at least somebody is listening. Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) takes twentieth-century music out of the realm of purely atonal dissonance and attempts to move us with beautiful, often relatively old-fashioned musical sounds. He presently serves on the composition faculty at Mannes College The New School for Music, and he is the director of the Mannes American Composers Ensemble.

In a booklet note Peter G. Davis asks, "Did musical composition take a wrong turn at some point early in the twentieth century?" Clearly, he wants us to answer yes, or how explain, he asks, the general public's disinterest in modern classical music. Of course classical music connoisseurs will always take an interest in new material. They will always embrace the unique and innovative; but your next-door neighbor? Not so much. It hasn't helped, too, that critics throughout the twentieth century have been telling the general public they are just too unsophisticated, too ignorant, to understand modern music, but Davis suggests the ruse hasn't worked. Music for the masses, music with melody and rhythm and harmony, is still preeminent in the public eye, he says, and people like Lowell Liebermann are in the forefront of the movement to highlight it.

Whatever, Liebermann's Symphony No. 2, composed in 1999, here finding its premiere recording.  However, one listen and you might swear he had written it at the end of the nineteenth century as at the end of the twentieth. The music sounds reminiscent in many ways of Mahler, filled with big, sweeping tunes, marches, soaring harmonic lines, and even a choral component. It's based on passages from the American poet Walt Whitman and celebrates, as Whitman did, a love of life and nature. It may not make anyone forget Beethoven, Brahms, or Mahler, but it's a step in the right direction for listeners who would like to hear more accessible music from our classical composers. It also helps that Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform the work with a delightful dash.

Andrew Litton
What's more, I liked the Second Symphony's companion piece even better. Liebermann dedicated the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (1992) to James Galway, and it shows an even greater Romantic flair than the newer work. It has a lovely lyricism to its opening two passages and a playful lightness about its Presto finale. Here, Eugenia Zukerman, flute, adds a special, sympathetic touch to the proceedings.

Delos engineer John Eargle provided the orchestra and chorus a big, somewhat thick, and very dynamic sound. As was the case in the 1990's and early 2000's, the record company recorded it for eventual playback in discrete five-channel surround, but they remastered the disc I reviewed for two-channel stereo, playable on any standard CD player. Of course, one may also play it back via Dolby Pro Logic or some other such synthetic decoding, but in ordinary two-channel it appears just fine, if a bit congested at times and somewhat flat dimensionally. Still, there is a realistic bloom around the instruments, and definition is reasonably sharp.

Getting back to Mr. Davis's argument, though, I suppose that just as popular music took a sudden swing into heavy metal and rap in the latter part of the preceding century, classical music did the same from the early twentieth century on. (And, please, I'd rather not get angry letters from rock and rap fans any more than from diehard modern classical aficionados; we'll all enjoy our own music together in our own way.) Anyhow, it now appears the pendulum might be swinging in the other direction. What goes around comes around, I suppose. Liebermann's music comes as a welcome breath of fresh (if somewhat old-fashioned) air, and we should probably encourage anything new, even if it's old.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa