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Although originally intended as a piece of music theater, “King Gesar,” written for narrator and chamber ensemble, is meant to evoke storytelling around a late-night campfire, and this recording manages that better than any staging might.

Gesar is a hero-king of Tibetan legend. Lieberson, an all-American composer with an academic musical background, has devoted his life to Tibetan Buddhism, and his music increasingly reflects that devotion with joyous immediacy. Here, it does so with colorful and powerfully dramatic instrumental effects and a dynamic narration rhythmically declaimed.

There are also star turns for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianists Peter Serkin and Emanuel Ax, all of whom had such a good time that they have since asked Lieberson for new solo vehicles. Lieberson has that effect on performers--and audiences. The playing and speaking (Omar Ebrahim is the narrator) are irresistible. The composer conducts.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent).


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