CCM’s encore of Lieberson cycle becomes a moving memorial

Tue Jun 07, 2011 at 12:37 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Chicago Chamber Musicians performed Peter Lieberson’s “The Coming of LIght” Monday night at Gottlieb Hall.

It was tragic enough losing Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the acclaimed American mezzo-soprano with the earthy yet celestial voice who died five years ago at age 52.

But in April the classical music world suffered another blow with the death of her husband, composer Peter Lieberson. At the final concerts of its season, which the composer had planned to attend, Chicago Chamber Musicians reminded us of Peter Lieberson’s extraordinary ability to write for the human voice.

CCM’s encore performances of Lieberson’s The Coming of Light, scored for baritone, oboe and string quartet, turned into an unintended but moving memorial tribute to the composer. The set of six songs was commissioned by CCM and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation to honor the 100th anniversary of Oak Park’s Unity Temple designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and premiered there by CCM in 2009.

Monday’s performance in the Merit School of Music’s Gottlieb Hall was everything Lieberson could have wished for in his settings of poems by Shakespeare, John Ashbery, and Mark Strand. The communication between baritone John Michael Moore and the instrumentalists — oboist Michael Henoch, violinists Joseph Genualdi and Jasmine Lin, violist Li-Kuo Chang and cellist Clancy Newman — had the relaxed intensity of a conversation with close friends. Moore deftly scaled his warm, flexible baritone to fit the intimate space, bringing both stirring passion and quiet reflection to the songs’ images of still nights and endless seas. Lieberson’s melodies unfolded in sumptuous, curving lines, with a hint of shadow lurking beneath the calm surface. (Chicago Chamber Musicians will perform The Coming of Light Wednesday at Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin and also record the work for future release.)

Moore and the string quartet returned after intermission for an equally moving performance of Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach. Despite the despairing mood of Matthew Arnold’s poem, Moore and his colleagues found the strand of serenity in Barber’s music, their austere melodies and gently pulsing rhythms conveying both acceptance and regret.

The concert opened with Ludwig Spohr’s Quintet in C minor for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano. Pianist Meng-Chieh Liu was the dominant voice, fluently sailing through Spohr’s dizzying ornaments and singing melodies. Flutist Mary Stolper was his frequent copilot in the work’s mercurial flights, but the quintet here sounded more like a collection of individual voices that a cohesive musical unit.

Violist Robert Swan joined the CCM string musicians to close the concert with a rousing performance of Dvorak’s familiar “American” String Quintet, Op.97. The combination of raw-edged power and lustrous gleam brought out both the merry and profound elements of Dvorak’s folk-flavored score.

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