V1534. LORRAINE HUNT LIEBERSON, w.Peter Serkin (Pf.): Songs by Mozart, Brahms, Debussy, Burleigh & Telson; Arias from La Lucrezia; w.Drew Minter: Giulio Cesare – Son nata a lagrimar (both Handel). (Austria) Harmonia Mundi 907500, Live Performance, 2004, Ravinia Festival. Final Sealed Copy! - 093046750022
“Lieberson brings nobility to the full range of emotions….The voice itself was a noble instrument: warm, full-bodied and seamless in its passage over the vocal registers. It was particularly well suited to Brahms, and the three songs which open the programme here find in both voice and spirit, sympathy and a rare reverence for the depth of feeling they embody….She truly was one of the great singers of our time….”
– John Steane, GRAMOPHONE, July, 2009
"Go to track 15, and when you finish listening to Harry Burleigh's "Deep River" you will have experienced the essence of performance artistry, the meaning of style and interpretation, and the heart, soul, and extraordinary voice and talent of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. No detailed analysis is necessary; this is simply how a song should be sung, and how voice, music, and words transcend the physical to the spiritual. From the calm, assured beauty of the opening phrase, we know the singer believes her home "is over Jordan", the "promised land" she gloriously proclaims at the song's climax, and then so affectingly describes at the words "where all is peace".
Lieberson's vocal mastery, understanding of text and how to convey its meaning, combined with the warm, richly colored timbre of her voice, exemplified in this simple song, are the same qualities you'll hear, applied with the same degree of care and skill, in every other selection in this recital, a concert performance from Ravinia (Illinois) in August, 2004. Whether it's the fuller textures and overt drama of the three Brahms songs or the airier contemplative atmosphere of Debussy's Trois chansons de Bilitis, Lieberson's voice seems the perfect vehicle for this at once most intimate and universal form of communication. Apparently the audience felt something special too, as indicated from contemporary reviews of the concert.
Of course, the very conditions that inspired Lieberson's artistic and expressive instincts detract somewhat from the CD listener's experience because we can't help but notice audience noises and voice/piano balance that's not always ideal. Some observers (this one included) also will find Lieberson's abundant portamento in the Handel La Lucrezia excerpts to be more distracting than dramatically appropriate or necessary (the drama in her performance is impressive enough!), but the Mozart pieces, especially the Schubert-esque Abendempfindung an Laura, are not so affected by such embellishment. The program ends with a song (Robert Telson's "Calling You") from one of Lieberson's "favorite films", Baghdad Cafe. It's lovely, wistful, and sad (and it sounds eerily like a Leonard Cohen tune as sung by Jennifer Warnes!), and ends in complete silence (thankfully applause is mostly excised from the recording). I should also say that Peter Serkin is an able if not always fully in-sync partner and the engineering and mastering are excellent.
Inevitably there will be some commentators who, with the disadvantage of hindsight, will claim to detect some quality of weakness or change in Lieberson's voice attributable to the illness that was to take her life at age 52 less than two years from the date of this concert. Pay no attention. If when she gave this performance she knew she was dying, all you can say is that it only made her singing more poignant, her interpretations more insightful and affecting, not less so. And in the end, as I said at the beginning, this is simply how songs should be sung."
-David Vernier, Classics Today.com, April, 2009
“Two years before she died, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson gave this recital focusing on the theme of love at the Ravinia Festival. In this live recording, she displays her own very special sense of drama in a program ranging over several centuries and covering every facet of this universal emotion. Fittingly, Hunt Lieberson is accompanied by an eminent partner, the pianist Peter Serkin.”
- Ned Ludd
“The mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who won near universal praise from critics and audiences for her courageous, insightful and deeply affecting artistry, had a maverick career. She brought uncompromising integrity to her choice of roles and repertory, was a champion of Baroque operas and of living composers, and preferred to work in close-knit conditions with directors and ensembles who shared her artistic aims, especially at festivals like Glyndebourne in England and Aix-en-Provence in France….few artists have brought such emotional vulnerability to their work.
That she began her professional life as a freelance violist and did not focus fully on singing until she was 26 may account for the musical depth and intelligence of her vocal artistry. One of her closest colleagues, Craig Smith, the Boston-based conductor and choir director, said as much in a 2004 profile of Ms. Hunt Lieberson by Charles Michener in the NEW YORKER. 'There's something viola-like about the rich graininess of her singing, about her ability to sound a tone from nothing’, he was quoted as saying.
Though her work seldom drew less than raves from critics, her singing eluded description. Despite the gleaming richness of her sound, her voice somehow conveyed poignant intimacy. Although she paid scrupulous attention to rhythm, phrasing and text, she came across as utterly spontaneous. Her person disappeared into her performances. And yet in a Handel aria, a Britten cantata or a song by her husband, she could be so revealing you sometimes wanted to avert your eyes for fear of intruding.
Her second appearance in a Met production came in 2003 when she sang the role of Dido in the new staging of Berlioz's epic LES TROYENS. With this luminous, stylistically informed and emotionally true portrayal she showed that she could galvanize the Met's stage in a major role.
She studied voice and viola at San Jose State University and, upon graduation, became a freelance player in the Bay Area noted for her expertise in contemporary music. When a French horn player she was dating got a job with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she moved with him to Boston, soon becoming a valued freelance musician. She was particularly drawn to the music program at Emmanuel Church in the Back Bay section of Boston, where Mr. Smith conducted the orchestra and choir. For the next decade her career thrived as she collaborated with the early-music conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra on a series of Harmonia Mundi recordings of Handel operas and oratorios.
She met Mr. Lieberson in 1997 when he selected her to sing in the premiere of his opera ASHOKA'S DREAM at the Santa Fe Opera. The story tells of an Indian emperor in the third century B.C. who renounces violence after converting to Buddhism and inspires trust and generosity among his people. She and Mr. Lieberson, a practicing Buddhist since his graduate-student days at Columbia, were immediately drawn to each other. Their closeness was apparent to anyone who observed them onstage at Symphony Hall in Boston in November during the ovations for ‘Neruda Songs’, Mr. Lieberson's setting of five Spanish sonnets by Pablo Neruda, each a reflection of a different aspect of love. The performance, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine, was repeated a few days later at Carnegie Hall. Every phrase of this emotionally unguarded, intricate and haunting work seemed fashioned by the composer for his wife's distinctive voice. It would be her last New York performance.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 July, 2006