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.