LIEUWEN: Concertos Volume II = Slovak Nat. Sym. Orch. /Franz Krager and Texas Musical Festival Orch./ Krager – MRS Classics

LIEUWEN: Concertos Volume II = Concerto for Cello and Orchestra; Romance for Violin, Cello and Orchestra; Vivace for String Orchestra; Concerto for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra – Slovak Nat. Sym. Orch. /Franz Krager and Texas Musical Festival Orch./ Krager – MRS Classics MSR 1582 (4/14/16) TT: 1:03:57 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Contemporary music fans will feel at home with Lieuwen’s lovely compositions.

My colleague Steven Ritter has previously reviewed Peter Lieuwen’s other MSR Classics disc, which comprises volume 1. He wished for more, and this disc is volume 2, entitled Concertos.

As Steven Ritter noted, Lieuwen’s work is hard to characterize. I hear music that sounds like Gade, and some of the American contemporary masters, but the fact is Lieuwen’s sound is unique and compelling. Driving rhythms, thoughtful music, and some lovely dynamics make his music worth more than passing notice.

The first work on the disc is a fine listen. It’s the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, written in 2012. The concerto was written for cellist Nicholas Jones, who performs it here. The first movement is massively dynamic, while the second movement is played broadly and more melancholy at the outset.

I have mixed options about the recording. The strings are lovely, the separation and imaging are just fine, but I think the cello is far too closely mic’ed. Even though it is the key instrument in this work, I think it is just too prominent in the mix. Perhaps other listeners will disagree, but I think the final result is a bit unrealistic, even though the orchestra is recorded perfectly.

Other works on the disc include the Romance for Violin, Cello, and Piano, written in 1994 and revised in 2010. Here the mix is more to my liking, with the cello having a better blend. It’s a fine piece, and a fine recording.

The Vivace for String Orchestra, written in 2010, began life as the third movement of Lieuwen’s Sonata for Guitar, but has been reworked as a very satisfying string piece.

The disc closes with Concerto for Piano, Marimba and Orchestra. From a technical standpoint this is another fine rendering of the sound of the musical forces. The strings are smooth and realistic, the piano occupies some real space in the soundstage, and the marimba is bright without being overpowering. The musicianship from the Texas Music Festival Orchestra is spot on.

All in all, Lieuwen has written some dramatic and interesting music. He’s worth further exploration and other than my one reservation about the sound of the cello in the first work on the disc, this collection is highly recommended.

—Mel Martin

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