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Duality (2006) [32:55]
Causality (1999) [35:00]
(bass trombone), Gottfried Stoger (soprano saxophone),
Jade Strings (Lisa Lee and Wei Tan (violins),
Ching Chen Juhl (viola), Clara Lee (cello))/Keith Kramer
(Duality); Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vit Micka (Causality)
rec. April 2006, Valley Cottage, New York (Duality)
October 2003, Olomouc, Czech Republic (Causality)
MMC 2167 [67:51]
Initially, one is struck by the unusual combination
of instruments; bass trombone, soprano saxophone and string
quartet are not an easy blend. The piece is all about contrasts,
and explores different methods of interaction between the
instruments throughout its four movements. The opening movement
is a strong tutti, which features a main thematic idea using
dotted rhythms and syncopations. The strings cannot help
but take on an essentially accompanying role, due to the
strength of sound of the two wind instruments. The music
is biting, with a sense of struggle and, according to the
programme note, ‘reflects the first instance of awareness
of the self’. The pulse and rhythmic drive give the music
momentum and by the end of the movement, the instrumental
combination seems comfortable, if not natural.
The second movement is a duet between the saxophone
and trombone, with hints of the previous thematic material.
The divergent colours of these two instruments keep the material
fresh, and the movement has the feel of an evolving discussion
between the two players. The parts eventually come together
into a convincing rhythmic unison, giving a sense of resolution.
The hymn-like opening of the third movement, with
the re-entry of the strings is said to be the ‘true beginning
of self-actualization’. The music evolves into a jazz style,
with the soprano saxophone and trombone coming into their
own with what sounds like improvised material, before returning
to the stillness of long notes in conjunction with the rest
of the ensemble.
The final movement continues very much along the
same lines, with calm moments breaking into more dramatic
interludes. For me, the highlight of the work is the extended
saxophone solo, which is beautifully played and highly expressive
in a jazz style. The philosophical idea here is that the
players have found individual self expression, and are at
the same time at one with the ensemble.
This is an interesting work, although the combination
of jazz and contemporary classical styles does not always
gel convincingly enough to maintain a sense of compositional
identity. There are some excellent moments (especially at
the beginning), but I felt that the sound world did not allow
for enough variety to maintain interest for just over half
The muted string orchestra sound came as something
of a relief. Percussion is used to good effect to colour
the sound, and repeated rhythmic riffs help with the music’s
momentum. This is a fascinating work, with an ever-evolving
sound world. Kramer’s orchestration is imaginative and there
are some exhilarating moments, not least the widespread use
of harmonic glissandi and tremolo effects at the end of the
first movement. The second movement begins with some wonderfully
static dissonances under sweeping melodic phrases. The piano
has a chance to shine and serves as a link between other
parts of the ensemble. A solo violin line is expressively
played, providing yet another moment of colour in this fascinating
work. The third movement is almost balletic in its dance-like
flowing rhythms, enigmatically dark and deeply enticing.
The piano opens the final movement with repeated pulsating
chords, reminiscent of the Rite of Spring against
dark string accompaniment figures. The mood breaks way into,
briefly, the feel of a gritty piano concerto, before being
taken over by ominously dark chordal harmonies once again.
The piano continues to have a prominent role, and soon high
string clusters are heard over glisses from the inside of
the piano. The piece ends quietly with col legno strings
disappearing off into the distance.
This piece gave much more of a sense of Kramer’s
talents as a composer. Having never heard any of his works
before, this disc makes me interested to seek out more. Despite
being challenging works, both harmonically and philosophically,
his thematic ideas are strong and memorable, and he has an
instinct for orchestration which is imaginative and individual.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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