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I’m willing to bet the two years just past have seen a noticeable increase in the number of released CDs of solo instrumental works, prepared in the isolation of one’s practise studio. Conversations With Myself is a selection of solos for clarinet and bass clarinet, some from the years between 1983 and 2007, bookended by works composed in 2020, during the new normal. Alicia Lee writes that the pieces present her “in dialogue with myself… where I was delivering advice to anyone who cared to listen.”
Dai Fujikura’s Contour for Bass Clarinet opens the disc. Freely melodic and ranging over the low to mid-high range of the instrument, it offers Lee room to show off musicality more than flashy technique. More demanding is Dialogue de l’Ombre Double (the only work for B-flat clarinet) by Pierre Boulez. Two characters emerge from Lee’s confident and affecting performance: the first, in the right channel, is a compulsive repeating motif that then gives way to a mercurial trilling countersubject heard on the left-hand side of the “stage.” At nearly-20-minutes’ length, this is a substantial undertaking, through which Lee’s sound remains clean and assured. In live performance, one of the “shadows” is pre-recorded. Here the effect of “live” versus electronic is overlaid through some highly effective spatial trickery; when in isolation, why not find ways to simulate social engagement?
If Monolog for Bass Clarinet (1983) by Isang Yun offers advice, I’m not sure what it might be. I love the sounds Lee produces on her grumpy big brother clarinet. Unsuk Chin’s Advice for a Caterpillar (from Alice in Wonderland, 2007) possibly advises poor life choices, in a seductive opium-infused siren song. Hideaki Aomori’s sweetly brief Split, brings the conversations to a close.