(Not So) New Music Tuesday: Lurie and Baker Play Muczynski

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.

New Music Tuesday: Rosna by Laboratorium Pieśni

I've been a fan of Laboratorium Pieśni since I stumbled across them thanks to the magic of Facebook a few months ago. Their earthy, gorgeous YouTube videos sucked me in almost as much as the magic of their Eastern European polyphony. They recently released their first full length album entitled "Rosna."

Laboratorium Pieśni is an eight-voice, all-female vocal ensemble focusing on international traditional song practice, particularly from Ukraine, Balkans, Poland, Belarus, Georgia, and Scandinavia. Their specialty is a capella polyphonic song with occasional infusion of folk instrumentation. 

The ensemble are actively engaged in field research, seeking to preserve disappearing folk music by infusing it with fresh life. They say it best on their website, "creating a new space in a traditional song, adding voice improvisations, inspired by sounds of nature, often intuitive, wild and feminine."

My favorite track on the album is easily "Sztoj pa moru" ("Out There on the Sea"), a song from Belarus. The haunting vocals and thoughtful use of percussion make this a particularly compelling track.

At the sea, blue sea
There was a floating flock of white swans
And where did the gray-white eagle come from?
It dispersed the flock around the blue sea
White down rose to heaven,
Gray feathers fell on a green meadow
And who will collect these feathers?
A beautiful girl

Check out their entire album, available for streaming and purchase through Bandcamp.