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Libertad: The Will to Freedom - Muñoz, Butt

Libertad: The Will to Freedom - Muñoz, Butt

Ars Produktion  ARS 38 338

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Works by Bonis, Braid, C Schumann, Gubaidulina, Beach, I Weber

Maria Cecilia Muñoz (flute)
Tiffany Butt (piano)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 24, 2024

The idea for this release was born when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its worst. People were confined to their own restricted areas. To those, whose living and, indeed, personal expression largely depend on freedom, these times were testing. However, and by the same token, such dire circumstances have often led to inventiveness, as presented here in ‘Libertad: The Will to Freedom’ by Maria Cecilia Muñoz (Flute) and Tiffany But (Piano).

Both musicians used the Covid-time to reflect on how, in the past, artists were able to cope with similar restrictions, notably in wartime and under social and political oppression. Not so much, as we can read in the liner notes, about the negative effects it inflicted on their creative power but rather about what they were nonetheless able to do in a positive sense. Their research resulted in a programme of selected composers that were restricted over the years one way or the other under various ‘labels’ as explained in the personal notice of both musicians and Claus-Dieter Hanauer's detailed liner notes, to which I may, if only for brevity, refer.

Had I not known about these considerations, I would have welcomed this latest ARS Produktion’s release as a perfect album to introduce the forthcoming Spring! Isn’t that in itself already ample proof that creative minds under stress can do wonders? I believe so!

Some 9 years ago, Maria Cecilia Muñoz surprised me with a well-imagined and accomplished concert with Sarah O'Brien (Harp) and the Kammerorchester Basel in a Mozart-related programme: Flute Concertos - Muñoz / O'Brien / Kasai. She now shows that she has lost nothing of her sparkling, yet even more mature virtuoso playing.

Apart from Clara Schumann’s sensitive ‘Drei Romanzen für Violine und Klavier‘ and Amy Beach’s beautiful Violin Sonata, both played here in an arrangement for Flute and Piano, most of the other works are not so much, or perhaps not at all, familiar.

In the three romances, Muñoz’s playing mimics the spirit of Clara’s ‘Sehnsucht’, softly articulating feelings of anticipation. In Amy Beach, she honestly transmits the two sides of the Sonata, the ‘Dolorosa’ and Amy’s apparent will to overcome social disregard. In its original fashion, it is a brilliantly crafted composition that in this alternative version also merits gaining a place in everyone’s hi-res library. The more so because María Cecilia Muñoz, with Tiffany But so very supportively at the piano, honours it with an equally brilliant and eloquently played solo part.

New Delight for the Bird Fancier, a brand new (2023) short and ingeniously constructed work by the Canadian composer, David Braid, prompted me in my belief - and before reading the liner notes, I must humbly add - that this release was all about the approaching Spring. Suggestively portrayed by Muñoz and her piano partner, I felt myself wandering in my ‘volière, the huge cage of Braid’s phantasy.

I’m aware that I am flying like a bird haphazardly over the programme and all its intriguing details. Returning to the opening work, of Mel Bonis, an alias to let people believe that she, Mélanie Hélène Bonis was a man, in her effort to conceal the fact that women cannot and should not compose. The reality, however, is that she was as good a composer as many of her male colleagues. A case similar to that of Fanny & Clara (Mendelssohn and Schumann). The three short pieces collected for this release seem to me sufficient proof of it. The typical French mood that emanates from them is preciously well exposed by our two musicians, seemingly another proof of Spring.

Ilse Weber’s contribution is altogether different, as it symbolizes strolling through the German Ghetto of ‘Theresienstadt’. The mood is reflective and played almost hesitantly with airy tones. This ‘Lied’ was arranged for Flute by Tiffany But. How beautiful!

My final remark concerns Sofia Gubaidulina, a Russian composer who has long been neglected. And not only forcefully in the Soviet era, where in 1979 she was (together with Edison Denisov and five more) blacklisted by Tikhon Khrennikov, Head of the Soviet Composer Union for political (or religious? Her Grandfather was a Tatar Mullah!) reasons, following earlier listings of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and other composers of a superior non-Soviet-conformist level compared to the politicised composer Tikhon.

It was the Latvian Violinist Gidon Kremer standing at the cradle of her growing fame in the West, where Sofia Gubaidulina moved and settled in Germany. Some time ago I had the pleasure of reviewing her one movement Violin Concerto ‘In tempus praesens’ Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1, Gubaidulina: In tempus praesens - Lamsma / Gaffigan / de Leeuw putting her at par with a fellow and Soviet blacklisted countryman and contemporary composer, Alfred Schnittke. It is good to have another of her masterpieces on record. For the interpreters no easy stuff here. Compellingly carried out and in doing so a small price to pay in support of a creative phenomenon. Thanks, Maria Cecilia and Tiffany!

An afterthought: I did not compare with big shots like James Galway and Emanuel Pahud. Their phenomenal and almost supra-natural virtuosity is widely known, acclaimed and respected. Maria Cecilia Muñoz is in my view in another league, and has something incomparably different in her baggage: The human feeling and a personality with which we want and can associate, thus adding to an earthlier sense of appreciation.

The recorded sound is, as to be expected, above any criticism.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2024 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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