Lowell Liebermann, “Gargoyles” (1989)

This is one of Liebermann’s most often performed pieces, and it’s no wonder: of the four, three are brilliant virtuoso show pieces. But so traditional! No. 3 could have been written by Debussy. No. 4 owes nearly everything to Liszt. No. 1 is the kind of demonic march that Bartók made famous, but Liszt and Reger pioneered.

Liebermann’s music is showy and effective but diffuse: even when the energy level is so high, the pieces lose momentum because of lack of concision or an absence of sharp edges. Compare the first piece here to Bartók’s Op. 14 or the Allegro Barbaro, or some of Liszt’s late Csardas pieces — or to Sebastian Currier’s much more energetic Scarlatti Cadences. Given that the fourth piece, especially, requires technique on the order of the Transcendental Etudes, are they really the best choice for hours of practicing?