MUCZYNSKI: Sonata for Flute and Piano. Moments for Flute and Piano. Woodwind Quintet. Duos for Flutes. Duos for Flute and Clarinet. Movements for Wind Quintet. Fragments for Woodwind Trio. Preludes for Flute Solo

MUCZYNSKI Sonata for Flute and Piano. Moments for Flute and Piano. Woodwind Quintet. Duos for Flutes. Duos for Flute and Clarinet. Movements for Wind Quintet. Fragments for Woodwind Trio. Preludes for Flute Solo –Alexandra Hawley (fl); Robert Muczynski (pn); Stanford Woodwind Quintet; with Jean-Pierre Rampal (fl) – MARCO POLO 8.225041 (68:41)

Robert Muczynski was born and educated in Chicago, where he came under the powerful influence of Alexandre Tcherepnin, his chief mentor. Now seventy years old, Muczynski has been based since 1961 in Tucson, Arizona, where he served as composer-in-residence at the University of Arizona until his retirement about ten years ago. Not unlike his near-contemporary Lee Hoiby, Muczynski is also an accomplished pianist who has been a persuasive advocate for his own music as well as that of others. But while music for piano plays a central role in the oeuvres of both composers, Hoiby has also concentrated on vocal and choral music, while Muczynski has devoted his attention largely to chamber music.

In a recent review of a disc called Flute Moments (22:1, p. 375) followed by a postscript in “Critics’ Corner” (22:3), I discussed Muczynski as a sort of  “sleeper” among American composers — one whose career has been free from “hype” of any kind, whose works increasingly win praise from critics and find favor among performers, and have gradually found their way into the active repertoire, but have rarely called attention to themselves or to their composer. As a result, Muczynski’s identity as a creative figure is considerably less well known and understood than are the particular merits of individual works. Not since the early 1980s, when Laurel issued two LPs featuring the composer’s performances of his own piano music, has there been a recording devoted entirely to Muczynski’s music, though there are few flutists who are unaware of his flute music, few saxophonists unfamiliar with his saxophone music, and few pianists who don’t know his piano music.

No sooner did these comments appear in print than Marco Polo issued an all-Muczynski disc, this one featuring his entire output of pieces that include the flute, offering the very opportunity for the collective consideration of his work that I have felt is due. However, unlike the case with his piano music, which centers around three substantial sonatas (and an early concerto), Muczynski’s output-including-flute, though accounting for a good 15% of his opus numbers over the course of a 35-year period, includes an awful lot of very minor stuff, skewing the representation of the composer in the direction of utilitarian material, divertimento-like in character. Despite the presence of the sonata and Moments — the two really substantive items — the average movement length of pieces on this disc is just less than two minutes.

On the whole, Muczynski’s music falls within the genre of American neoclassicism, with its clear, concise, abstract forms, simple, transparent textures, and avoidance of pretense or grandiosity of any kind. The composers whose music his most resembles are Bartók, in its fondness for thematic ideas with a “question-and-answer” shape, Bernstein, in its propensity for “blue notes” and its exuberant treatment of irregular meters, and Barber, in its dark, moody lyricism. Yet there is more to Muczynski than resemblances to others; his relatively small body of work is notable for its impeccable taste and workmanship, for expressive content of a high order, and for its own distinctive aesthetic point of view.

As mentioned, the Flute Sonata (1961) and Moments (1992) are the most ambitious efforts heard here and the two that involve the piano. Roughly comparable in dimension and scope, they reveal aspects of both consistency and growth in the composer’s development. Each is a fine work of some twelve minutes duration that aspires to a level beyond the sort of ornamental trivia that comprises so much of the flute literature, while remaining thoroughly idiomatic in creating an expression suited to the natural qualities of the instrument. From the standpoint of the listener, the chief difference between the two is the greater formal and expressive complexity of the later work — one of the composer’s most recent and most fully consummated achievements.

The Sonata has been recorded a number of times; the most notable rendition features the veteran artist Julius Baker, with the composer at the piano, on a Laurel LP released in 1984. An excellent performance, it has never been reissued on CD (although Laurel has announced plans to do so at some unspecified time in the future). On this new disc, Alexandra Hawley plays beautifully as well, while Muczynski’s own playing is extremely fine in both cases, with far more polish and nuance than one finds in most composer-performed renditions. The most significant difference between the two lies in the quality of the recorded ambience: Baker/Laurel is very closely miked, creating the impression that the performance is taking place in one’s own living room; Hawley/Marco Polo is at the opposite extreme, with considerable reverberation, suggesting a spacious auditorium. The recording quality is especially advantageous to the pianist on the new Marco Polo release, but rather unflattering on the Laurel disc. Baker’s strong flute-playing dominates that performance, whereas Hawley’s rather translucent tone quality is slightly overwhelmed by the expansive piano sound heard on the new CD.

Flutist Teresa Beaman’s recording of Moments on a Laurel CD (LR-857) beat Hawley’s as a world premiere by just a few months. But Hawley’s reading (with the composer at the piano) far outstrips Beaman’s (with pianist Jane Davis Maldonado) as a performance, displaying a more vivid conception and a mercurial fluency that imbues the work with greater vitality and musical dimension. On this new release, Moments emerges as one of Muczynski’s most personal and mature compositions, likely to equal or surpass the sonata in popularity once flutists discover it.

The other work of some scope is Muczynski’s 1985 Woodwind Quintet, which has already won something of a foothold in the repertoire despite its relative recency. Although diverting in character, it can stand alongside the best of the American neoclassical woodwind quintet genre — i.e., the Carter Quintet and the Irving Fine Partita — without displaying the banality that marks so many lesser works of this kind.

The remaining pieces do not warrant individual comment. While minor inartistic significance, each individual movement succeeds in making an authentic and meaningful musical statement within the limitations of its medium. None–not even the duos or the unaccompanied preludes — is merely a dry exercise or empty cliché.Not clear from Marco Polo’s outer packaging is the fact that the Duos for flute and clarinet are simply re-arrangements of the Duos for flutes. Also slightly misleading is the announced participation of Jean-Pierre Rampal, who, as the headnote above indicates, is heard only in the Duos for flutes. However, the playing of the various members of the Stanford Woodwind Quintet (Ms. Hawley, James Matheson, oboe, Gregory Dufford, clarinet, Lawrence Ragent, horn, and Rufus Olivier, bassoon) is consistently superb.

Let’s hope Laurel reissues the Muczynski Plays Muczynski material onto CD SOON! And how about a disc featuring the three Piano Trios and the String Trio.

MUCZYNSKI: (arr. Kynaston) Saxophone Concerto; HEIDEN: Fantasia Concertante. Diversion; Arrangements of music by GERSHWIN, BRUCH, PUCCINI, and MASSENET.

MUCZYNSKI (arr. Kynaston)  Saxophone Concerto.  HEIDEN  Fantasia Concertante.  Diversion  – Eugene Rousseau (sax); Frederick Fennell, cond; Winds of Indiana – DELOS DE 3188 (71:28)

GERSHWIN (arr. R. Hermann)  Porgy and Bess Medley.  BRUCH (arr. Kimura)  Kol Nidre.  PUCCINI (arr. R. Hermann)  Tosca Fantasy.  MASSENET (arr. Curnow)  Thais: Meditation

This is an attractive showcase for the artistry of Eugene Rousseau, one of today’s foremost saxophone virtuosos, based for many years at the University of Indiana.  This recent release should appeal to saxophonists, to general listeners who simply enjoy the saxophone as a “classical” concert instrument, and to more ambitious listeners in search of worthwhile new repertoire discoveries.  Entitled “Saxophone Vocalise,” the disc highlights the instrument’s particular aptness for cantabile playing through a group of arrangements of melodic favorites; these, however, surround three substantial, expertly crafted neoclassical works.  Rousseau is accompanied here by the Winds of Indiana, a cream-of-the-crop group culled from faculty and students at the University, conducted by the legendary wind ensemble pioneer Frederick Fennell.

Probably most notable from the standpoint of the serious listener is the first recording of Robert Muczynski’s 1981 Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, heard here in a most appropriate and idiomatic transcription for wind ensemble done by Trent Kynaston, the saxophonist for whom the work was written.  Muczynski, Chicago-born but a long-time resident of Arizona, is now in his late 60s.  His music is rarely sensational or breath-taking in any way, but is consistently interesting, tasteful, and satisfying, and always displays an authentic expressive impetus, which sets it above most American neoclassicism.  His catalog centers around chamber music and music for solo piano.  Indeed, one of the unfortunate casualties of the sudden end of the LP era during the mid-1980s was the disappearance of two Laurel discs devoted to Muczynski’s own fine performances of his complete piano output.  Although — for musico-political reasons–he has never developed much of a reputation as a composer of “significance,” a number of his works have become repertoire staples, most notably his marvelous Flute Sonata, a sine qua non among flutists.  Muczynski’s full-length concerto, while displaying a characteristic emotional reserve, is consistently effective, maintaining a dark moodiness somewhat suggestive of Bernard Herrmann. The work receives a handsome, finely polished reading here.

Also of substantive musical interest are two works by Bernard Heiden, a prolific composer, born in Germany in 1910, but associated with the University of Indiana for most of his career.  Another unfortunately low-profile figure, Heiden has turned out a considerable body of rather unremarkable but expertly wrought chamber music.  His reputation has further suffered for his never having fully shaken free of the dominating influence of his teacher Paul Hindemith.  That influence is clearly apparent in the two works offered here.  The 7-minute Diversion is rather conventional in impact, though its straightforward vigor is pleasantly bracing.  Its musical materials are simpler and more diatonic than other works of the composer with which I am familiar.  Considerably more complex is the Fantasia Concertante, composed in 1988–almost half a century after the Diversion.  Here the materials are much more dissonant and chromatic, while the syntax remains within the familiar parameters of neoclassicism.  Both Heiden works are performed brilliantly.

As mentioned, these three works are nestled among arrangements of more tuneful favorites, but the latter are less consistently successful, while providing opportunities for Rousseau to display his warm, liquid tone.  The Bruch and the Massenet are pretty enough and require no particular comment.  However, the brief medley of tunes from Porgy and Bess sounds rather uptight and “square”–attributable as much to Fennell’s rather rigid conducting as to Rousseau’s playing.  Least idiomatic of all, however, is the Tosca medley:  Saxophone plus winds cannot approach the peculiarly magical timbre achieved by Puccini in his blending of voice with orchestra.  Ralph Hermann’s arrangement sounds quite bizarre by comparison, and is further marred by some really tacky lapses of taste.  Rousseau seems uncomfortable with the lavishly indulgent phrasing customary for this music and rushes hastily through it.  But these are minor matters relative to the project as a whole. 

MUCZYNSKI: Symphonic Dialogues. GRIFFES: Three Poems of McCloud. BRANDON: Celebration Overture. OSBON: Liberty. KLESSIG: Don Juan: Meditation. LAMB J.B. II. FELCIANO: Overture Concertante

MUCZYNSKI Symphonic Dialogues. GRIFFES Three Poems of Fiona McCloud1BRANDON Celebration Overture. OSBON Liberty. KLESSIG Don Juan: Meditation. LAMB J.B. II. FELCIANO Overture Concertante – Paul Freeman, cond; Czech National SO; Louise Toppin (sop); Jean-Michel Bertelli (cl) – ALBANY TROY-322 (62:58)

This recent release is a rather odd grab-bag of styles and periods in American music, from an “old master” like Charles Tomlinson Griffes to a composer still in his 30s, like David Osbon. And the entire production is introduced by the conductor himself, who reads nearly six minutes of program notes before the music begins (a little strange, isn’t it?–I wonder what the thinking was).

The most notable entry on the program is Robert Muczynski’s Symphonic Dialogues. As well represented as Muczynski is on disc today, very little of his orchestral music has been recorded. Truth to tell, there isn’t that much of it, and what little there is tends to lack the urgency, conviction, and distinction so characteristic of his chamber and solo piano works. Composed in 1965, Symphonic Dialogues exemplifies the lively, syncopated, but generic neoclassicism that was the lingua franca of American composers during the 1950s. (The title refers to the prominence of dyadic interaction among the instruments throughout the work.) The piece is well crafted, with a darkly driven quality that gives it some real bite. But its expressive range and character seem a little too comfortably contained within the parameters of the medium. Listeners who have developed a fondness for Muczynski’s chamber works will no doubt want to hear this piece for themselves. Freeman leads an incisive performance that represents the work quite effectively.

If Muczynski’s piece sounds a bit dated, consider the fact that Sy Brandon’s Celebration Overture sounds exactly as if it were written for a Midwestern college band in about 1955 — yet it was actually composed for orchestra forty years later! Lively, robust, and exuberant, it was written to honor the anniversary of a local FM radio station. According to the program notes, Brandon, now based in Pennsylvania, earned his doctorate at the University of Arizona, where Muczynski was Professor of Composition for many years. In view of their stylistic affinity, it is not unlikely that their paths crossed in one way or another. Let me be clear about one thing: in discussing these two pieces, I use the term “dated” as a point of socio-historical description — not as criticism. As regular readers know, I do not adhere to a view in which the acceptability of a musical style is determined by the calendar. My only criticism of either of these works follows from their generic, rather than individualistic, personalities.

The short-lived (1884-1920) Charles Tomlinson Griffes was probably the most artistically successful American composer of the first two decades of this century. His Three Poems of Fiona McCloud, dating from 1918, constitute by far the earliest and best-known music among the motley assortment of pieces on this disc. Along with the Piano Sonata, composed at about the same time, the McCloud (aka William Sharp) settings are his greatest works, exhibiting an opulent intensity that call to mind Strauss and even Barber. North Carolina-based soprano Louise Toppin has a lovely voice and offers a fine rendition of these wonderful songs, although listeners who are chiefly interested in the Griffes are likely to turn to other recordings that offer more compatible programs.

The other fairly ambitious work on the disc is the Overture Concertante for clarinet and orchestra, by Richard Felciano, who is currently based at USC Berkeley. This 14-minute piece was written for clarinetist Jean-Michel Bertelli, who gave the premiere in 1996. If one were to be glib and facile, one might dismiss the piece as a small-scale knock-off of John Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto, as it partakes of a similarly wide-ranging eclecticism, built largely around coloristic and gestural ideas, but not without a moment or two of surprisingly touching lyricism. It is the kind of piece that can be effective in a live performance, but is not likely to sustain interest with deeper acquaintance. Soloist Bertelli does a fine job, however.

Perhaps the oddest selection is the brief “Meditation” from jazz pianist Richard Klessig’s 1996 ballet score Don Juan. This is a very simple, but very pretty fugal excerpt in a neo-Baroque style. The performance is less precise and polished than most of the others, but the music achieves its effect.

Somewhat interesting is the 8-minute tone poem JB II by Marvin Lamb, currently the Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma. This 1985 work was supposedly inspired by Archibald MacLeish’s play JB, but whatever relationship between the two works may have been in the composer’s mind is not apparent to this listener. The music is a rather haunting contemplation in a language of attenuated tonality, and features extended woodwind solos. But the work fails to hold one’s attention in its attempt to sustain a reflective mood. This performance also is a bit rough and ragged around the edges.

Least successful of all is the 7-minute overture called Liberty, by English-born, American-trained David Osbon. The piece is supposed to be a deliberately ironic and ambivalent commentary on the history of the city of Philadelphia. However, the music itself is just raucous, unpleasant, and unconvincing.

Saxophone Masterpieces. KABELÁC: Suite. CRESTON Sonata. MUCZYNSKI: Sonata. HEIDEN: Sonata; Fantasia Concertante.

SAXOPHONE MASTERPIECES – Eugene Rousseau (alto sax); Jaromír Klepác (pn) – RIAX  RICA-10001 (68:28)

KABELÁC Suite. CRESTON Sonata. MUCZYNSKI Sonata. HEIDEN Sonata; Fantasia Concertante.

The title of this rather obscure disc may appear to be hyperbolic, but as far as I am concerned, it is pretty accurate. Furthermore, these masterpieces of the repertoire are lovingly brought to life by one of the world’s leading concert saxophonists. In recent years Eugene Rousseau, who has taught at the University of Indiana for more than three decades, has been documenting his performances of the major saxophone works on recordings. Many of these have proven to be convincing showcases not only for the music, but also for Rousseau’s all-encompassing technical mastery and beautifully refined tone quality, abetting a tasteful, if prudently cautious, sense of musical interpretation. The performances on this disc were recorded in Prague in 1992, and also feature the Czech pianist Jaromir Klepác, who serves as Rousseau’s accompanist at the summer program of the Salzberg Mozarteum, where he teaches during the summer. One makes the assumption that it was Klepác who introduced Rousseau to the Kabelác Suite, which, though a rarity whose appearance on CD is most welcome, is rather incongruous stylistically with the examples of mainstream American neoclassicism that comprise the rest of the program.

I have written quite extensively about other recordings featuring the extraordinary music of Miloslav Kabelác (1908-1979), and refer the interested reader to reviews that appeared in Fanfare 17:2, 17:3, 18:2, 20:1, and 22:1. The Suite for Saxophone and Piano is a substantial 20-minute work in six movements, composed in 1959 (between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies). Rather than the group of Baroque-derived dance movements usually connoted by the word “suite” as used by neoclassicists, Kabelác’s work is a collection of largely rather ominous, portentous character pieces along the lines of the Inventions and Ricercares for percussion, the Preludes for organ and for piano, and other works of the composer. Although the saxophone does seem an odd candidate for the composer’s strangely impersonal — almost mechanical — cosmic reflections, the quality of the instrument conjures a sort of “human” persona through which these largely slow, introspective, and — at times — sublimely eloquent pieces are articulated.

The aesthetic opposite of the Kabelác Suite is the Saxophone Sonata of Paul Creston. A lively and warmly lyrical piece in the composer’s patented “Les Six on Times Square” manner, this three-movement work is ideally suited to the instrument. One of the first composers to write serious saxophone works, Creston also produced a suite, a concerto (with orchestra or band), a rhapsody (with organ), and a quartet. But the 1939 sonata is unquestionably the finest of them all. Indeed, it is one of Creston’s most tasteful and most superbly crafted chamber works — and probably his most popular one as well.

There have been at least a dozen recordings of the Creston Sonata, and I believe that I have heard most of them. None has rivaled the early 1950s Columbia monaural LP that featured the creamy-toned virtuosity of Vincent Abato and the amazing, feisty precision of Creston himself at the piano. But Rousseau and Klepác, while just as meticulously accurate and artfully coordinated, provide a richer, more fully realized musical experience by shaping melodic phrases and highlighting delightful rhythmic interplays in the more considered, thoughtful way that only a “second-generation performance” can. The modern recording quality is an additional enhancement.

A recurring presence in Fanfare for the past several issues is the Arizona-based Robert Muczynski, represented here by a powerfully expressive, highly concentrated seven-minute sonata in just two movements. Composed in 1970, Muczynski’s sonata occupies approximately the same locus on the American music spectrum as the Creston — neoclassical in form and style, warmly expressive in content, and articulated through a harmonic language calibrated to a relatively mild level of dissonance, without producing a bland or timid effect. Yet though their sonatas may exhibit the same generic style, the distinctive musical personalities of the two composers give rise to works that share little resemblance to each other. Muczynski’s opens with a dark, soulful melody of arresting beauty, developed at some length, and then followed by a grim and driving scherzo.

The two works for which the word “masterpiece” is a bit of a stretch are those by the German-born, Indiana-based Bernhard Heiden. Now almost 90, Heiden is well known for a large catalog of solidly crafted works, serious in tone and intent, and displaying a sincere and authentic musicality, aesthetically consistent with the principles of his teacher Paul Hindemith. However, the unfortunate limitation of Heiden’s otherwise estimable output is the composer’s inability to project a musical identity of his own, apart from the dominating presence of the elder master. Heiden’s Saxophone Sonata, preceding Creston’s by two years, is actually one of the first formally classical works written for the instrument (although Creston’s Suite dates from 1935). It could easily be mistaken for a work by Hindemith. Although I am sure that Rousseau’s interpretation has been authenticated by the composer, the tempos of the first two movements struck me as uncomfortably fast, with some uncoordinated moments between the two players as well.

Heiden’s Fantasia Concertante was written almost half a century later than the sonata and, in truth, Hindemith’s fingerprints are rather less apparent. This is a finely crafted free-form abstract work, just under 15 minutes in duration, and quite imaginative in its sober, no-nonsense manner. Rousseau has recorded the Fantasia in a version with band accompaniment on a disc (Delos DE-3188; see Fanfare 21:3, pp. 151-52) that also features Muczynski’s Saxophone Concerto. That one has the obvious advantage of greater tonal variety, but the piano reduction is an acceptable alternative.

All in all, this is quite a valuable release, and one that will please more than just saxophone enthusiasts, although it might easily be overlooked. Not only are Rousseau’s performances superb, as stated earlier, but pianist Klepác does quite an extraordinary job of capturing the spirit of a style of music that is often completely mangled by non-American performers. However, there are a few production blemishes that I would be remiss in failing to mention: First, no movement titles are given anywhere on the package — you’d be surprised how much they are missed! Second, the quantity and extent of typographical errors is quite excessive, including repeated confusion between the names Kabelác and Klepác. (The disc is available from RIAX, PO Box 8032, Bloomington, IN 47407, or www.riax.com)

Flute Moments. MUCZYNSKI: Moments for Flute and Piano. Preludes for Flute Solo. L. LIEBERMANN: Flute Sonata. E. BURTON: Flute Sonatina. FOOTE: Three Pieces. SCHWANTNER: Soaring. HOOVER: Kokopeli. J. A. LENNON: Echolalia.

FLUTE MOMENTS – Teresa Beaman (fl); Jane Davis Maldonado, Andreas Werz (pns) – LAUREL LR-857CD (68:11)

MUCZYNSKI Moments for Flute and Piano. Preludes for Flute Solo. L. LIEBERMANN Flute Sonata. E. BURTON Flute Sonatina. FOOTE Three Pieces. SCHWANTNER Soaring. HOOVER Kokopeli. J. A. LENNON Echolalia. LA BERGE revamper

This is one of those collections featuring unknown performers playing 20th-century chamber music — in this case, a hundred years of American music for flute solo or with piano — that one assumes will attract little notice. However, a percentage of such releases really warrant attention — either because the playing is really fine, or because the program offers some important music, or both. In the case of this new release, the latter applies, because among this miscellany of nine pieces are three substantial items, each of which illustrates its own individual brand of neoclassicism. Of them, Muczynski’s Moments is a first recording, as far as I know.

Formerly chairman of the composition department of the University of Arizona at Tucson, Robert Muczynski (b. 1929) has produced a formidable body of music — primarily for piano solo and small chamber combinations — notable for its consistently fine workmanship and impeccable taste, its sincere and authentic musicality, and its modest but appealing and clearly defined character. Perhaps because of the absence of any sort of sensationalism or high-profile exposure surrounding his music, Muczynski’s identity as a composer has not achieved the reputation warranted by the place held in the repertoire by a growing number of his works. Specifically, his respective sonatas for flute and for saxophone, a recent woodwind quintet, and a fair amount of his piano music are heard frequently — and increasingly so every year–in recitals throughout the country. Yet little attention is paid to his output as a whole, or to the compositional persona it represents.

Some significant recognition seemed be gathering momentum during the early 1980s, when Laurel released two LPs devoted to Muczynski’s piano music, performed by the composer himself. These recordings provided Paul Snook (Fanfare 4:5) with “ample evidence to support the suspicion that, during the past three decades, Muczynski has been turning out some of the most impressive traditional music for piano by any American since Barber.” But less than a handful of years later, the compact disc rendered LPs virtually obsolete, and Laurel’s small but meticulous catalog of recordings fell by the wayside. For whatever reason, Laurel has been very slow to reissue its treasures onto CD; for more than a decade the Muczynski piano recordings have lain dormant, and the opportunity for becoming acquainted with his music in any comprehensive, systematic fashion disappeared.

However, although this new recording does not include the popular Flute Sonata (recorded by Julius Baker and the composer for Laurel, also during the early 80s), it does offer the three brief Preludes for flute solo, composed in 1962. These are excellent studies in phrasing, without benefit of harmonic support, yet provide thoroughly pleasant listening as well.

Of considerably more interest, however, is the 1992 work that Muczynski has entitled Moments, the most recent of his compositions, I believe, to be recorded. A 12-minute piece in three movements, it has the basic “feel” of a sonata, although classical templates seem to be avoided. The work has all the Muczynski fingerprints — nifty kinetic rhythmic syncopations, a sort of sinister moodiness (the program annotator calls it “embittered,” which I think is a bit too strong), with a thoroughly-integrated “bluesy” flavor, and a phraseological symmetry somewhat reminiscent of Bartók. I suspect that Moments will achieve a foothold in the flute repertoire alongside the composer’s Sonata.

Also of considerable interest is the Sonata by Lowell Liebermann, a young New York-born and -trained composer, still in his 30s, whose traditionally constructed music has already attracted considerable attention during the past decade (see Fanfare21:1). His Flute Sonata was composed in 1987 and is quite a strong work, comprising just two movements. The opening Lento sustains a sober, intense, reflective mood throughout, without losing focus for a moment, while the Presto finale — only one-third the length of the opener–is brilliant, exciting, and technically challenging. Offering both musical substance and virtuoso acrobatics, Liebermann’s Sonata has already attracted a following among performers and seems destined to join the Muczynski as a key item in the American flute repertoire. My only reservation about the piece is that, as fine as it is, Liebermann seems always to be speaking through the voice of Prokofiev, rather than through his own, which I have yet to discern among the works of his that I have heard.

The Flute Sonatina of Eldin Burton represents an extreme example of the point made above in reference to Muczynski. Virtually all I know about Burton is that he was born in Georgia in 1913, spent much of his life in Florida, and died in 1985. But this 9-minute Sonatina, composed in 1946, is probably one of the three most frequently performed works in the American flute repertoire, and its popularity is easy to understand. From the first note, it provides a flattering showcase for the performer, while warmly enveloping the listener in music so irresistibly ingratiating that one can easily forgive the fact that its language seems wholly derived from those of Debussy and Fauré. But I continue to wonder: Who was Eldin Burton and what else did he compose?

The remaining works on the disc are less ambitious in scope and can be discussed briefly: Arthur Foote’s Three Pieces are the earliest music on the disc–very tasteful, refined examples of salon music, composed in 1892. Joseph Schwantner’s music is both appealing and instantly identifiable as his own; in less than two minuteshis 1986 Soaring effectively captures the image of a bird in flight. Katherine Hoover’sKokopeli for flute solo, dating from 1990, is a soliloquy that evokes the flute-playing musician from Hopi mythology. Born in Minnesota, Anne La Berge lives in Amsterdam; her 1992 revamper is not without musical value in its demonstration of several “extended” flute techniques, although conventional listeners may disagree. John Anthony Lennon’s Echolalia also reveals some concern with shape and line, although not enough to sustain interest for its 5½ minutes.

Teresa Beaman is a faculty member of California State University at Fresno, and appears to be an active figure in the world of flute-playing, as performer, teacher, and networker. Her playing is technically assured, and she offers polished interpretations within the varied array of musical styles represented on this most adventurous and rewarding recital program. The contribution by pianist Jane Davis Maldonado to the pieces by Muczynski, Burton, and Foote is excellent, while Andreas Werz lends fine support to the works by Schwantner and Liebermann.