A friend and colleague of mine recently gifted me with a real gem of an album, recorded in 1984: Laurie and Baker Play Muczynski. These legendary soloists perform the late 20th-century composer's chamber works for flute and piano, clarinet and piano, and flute and clarinet:
- "Time Pieces" for Clarinet & Piano, Op. 43
- Six Duos for Flute & Clarinet, Op. 34
- Sonata for Flute & Piano, Op. 14
- Three Preludes for Unaccompanied Flute, Op. 18
My favorite work on the record (yes, it's actually a record!) is the Duos for Flute and Clarinet. This album is the first recording produced of the Duos in this configuration. The six-movement piece was originally composed for two flutists rather than the flute and clarinet instrumentation heard here. It's not atypical for music for flute duo to be arranged for a flute and clarinet pairing, but what makes this particular arrangement interesting is that Muczynski himself opted to re-arrange his flute duet upon learning that Baker and Lurie would be making this record.
Baker's reputation for exquisite phrasing and an impressive dynamic range in the extreme registers of the instrument really shines in these pieces. His performance holds up 30 years later as an example of truly virtuosic American flute playing.
Curiously, Lurie's performance, while excellent in its own right, doesn't hold up quite as well under modern scrutiny. The two colleagues I spoke with regarding Lurie shared a similar conclusion: Lurie's aesthetic is on the lighter side, embracing a pure core for his sound without exploring much of the darker, warmer timbre that the clarinet is capable of producing. This style of clarinet has largely fallen out of favor, overtaken by powerful, overtone-rich, lush sound.
Still, Baker and Lurie's sounds complement each other beautifully in this recording, where individual lines so often weave in and out of each other that it's difficult to discern where one melody ends and the next begins. They work together expertly to deliver a striking, virtuosic take on these demanding but eminently enjoyable duos.
The entire album is well worth a listen if you can get your hands on a copy of it, a real gem of American composition and performance--and the duos are absolutely worth playing if you can find yourself a duet partner willing to take on the challenge with you.