Muczynski’s Chamber Music Brilliantly Played on Brilliant Classics

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MUCZYNSKI: Fantasy Trio, Op. 26. Sonata for Cello & Piano. Duos for Flute & Clarinet. Time Pieces for Clarinet & Piano. Sonata for Flute & Piano / Ginevra Petrucci, flautist; Glen Kanasevich, clarinetist; Dorotea Racz, cellist; Dmitry Samogray, pianist / Brilliant Classics 95433

The music of Robert Muczynski (1929-2010), not being as familiar with audiences as it should be, is always welcome to hear, and this new collection on Brilliant Classics is surprisingly good.

Muczynski, who studied with Walter Knupfer and Alexander Tcherpenin, joined the composition faculty at the University of Arizona in 1965 and stayed there for 23 years. His Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra was nominated for, but did not win, a Pulitzer Prize in music. He is frequently referred to as one of the most distinguished neoclassical composers in postwar America. His music is essentially tonal, but due to his constant shifting of chord positions and pivoting within those chords, his music sounds restless and modern. He was also very fond of irregular meters with 5 or 7 beats to the bar, which further complicated the listening process.

The works on this CD are typical of his output, and are played with tremendous sensitivity as well as precision by this enthusiastic group of young musicians. Italian flautist Ginevra Petrucci, American clarinetist (and composer) Gleb Kanasevich, Croatian cellist Dorotea Racz and American pianist Dmitry Samogray, here performing as a duo or trio in the various pieces, give committed, beautifully articulated readings of these appealing yet tricky scores. As a pianist, Samogray is the kind of player I like to characterize as a “chamber music specialist,” much like Menahem Pressler; he has a fluid and fluent technique, but by and large stays within a relatively narrow dynamic and emotional range, which makes him absolutely perfect as a chamber musician. Samogray’s special talents are fully on display in the Cello Sonata with Racz, in which he shows his mastery of line and color within his self-imposed limits.

Muczynski’s music tended to sound edgy and energetic both as a result of his irregular meters and his natural proclivity towards rhythm-driven music. Only in the slow movements or slow introductions did he relax his pace and ease up on this aesthetic, yet somehow it all dovetailed together and he made it work. Even in the Scherzo of the Cello Sonata, for instance, using a fairly conventional 3/4 or 3/8 rhythm, Muczynski’s tendency towards altered harmonies makes the listener sit up and pay attention. There was always something going on in his music!

By contrast with the preceding pieces, the Duo for Flute & Clarinet is an essentially witty piece, full of playful cat-and-mouse chases between the two instruments. Only the pensive “Allegro molto” is serious in feeling. The Time Pieces for clarinet and piano also have their playful side, but are more driven than jocular. One of Muczynski’s more endearing qualities was conciseness; his music said no more and no less than it had to, thus even in the movements at or over five minutes, one rarely feels like “tuning out.” For me, this is always the mark of a good composer, which is one of the reasons (aside from his bathos and religiosity) why I so heartily dislike Bruckner.

The Flute Sonata is also sprightly and energetic; indeed, I was amazed at how much Muczynski was able to extract from the same basic style of composition. His “brand,” so to speak, might tend to be repetitious by using similar devices in every piece, yet at least within the confines of these works the impression one gets is that of delight rather than déjà vu.

All in all, then, an excellent album all round. Surprising, good music played by really talented young musicians who seem to enjoy it. Who could ask for anything more?

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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