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Leo KRAFT (b.1922)
Clarinet Concerto (1987, rev. 2003) [15.31]*
Symphony in One Movement (1985) [16.57]
Jacob Wrestles with the Angel, tone poem for large orchestra (2000) [09.08]
Pacific Bridges, for string orchestra and clarinet obbligato (1989) [20.32]**
Roger Salander (clarinet)*
Zbigniew Kaleta, (clarinet)**
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Joel Eric Suben (Jerzy Kosek**)
rec. Olomouc, Czech Republic, Feb. 2003 (Jacob Wrestles; Pacific Bridges); April 2004 (Clarinet Concerto; Symphony). DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2756 [62.17]


Leo Kraft, not to be confused with his near-contemporary William Kraft, was born in Brooklyn in 1922. He studied composition with Karol Rathaus, Randall Thompson and Nadia Boulanger. He has a considerable output in many genres, from chamber music for solo instruments to large-scale choral and orchestral works.

This release presents a few fairly recent works in a fair if incomplete survey of his present output. His music is fairly traditional by 20th century standards, in that it is atonal – or freely tonal – and is obviously free from any kind of Americana. Leo Kraft seems to me an American composer closer to Sessions than to Copland. Though not intractably complex, it is rather more austere, harmonically stringent and mildly dissonant, tightly structured and argued.

The works recorded here perfectly illustrate Kraft’s variety of approach and his music’s varied character within a consistent language. The earliest work is the Symphony in One Movement from 1985, a compact monolith, strongly argued and often abrasive. It is a quite different proposition from, say, America’s best-known one-movement symphony, Roy Harris’s Third. On the other hand, if compared to any of Sessions’ symphonies, it is far more accessible and impressive, if not always easy-going.

The slightly later Clarinet Concerto, composed in 1986 and revised in 2003 for the present recording, has much in common with the Symphony, although it is globally somewhat lighter in mood and character, with lively rhythms and a good deal of good humour along with a pinch of irony. The movement layout is a bit unusual in that the opening moderately fast movement is followed by a Fast and lively Scherzo and a Quite fast finale. It is an engaging work that deserves wider exposure.

Pacific Bridges, for string orchestra and clarinet obbligato, is rather a suite in six clearly contrasted movements than a concerto. The composer tells us that "the title suggests its significance" and that "the music is meant as a bridge between the people of Japan and the United States". He also emphasises the music’s power to span distances and different cultures. However, the composer does not quote any Japanese music: too "different from [my] Western musical language". Instead he uses some scales from traditional Japanese music. This may be heard in the first and fifth movements through allusion than direct quote, so that the music avoids any postcard imagery and remains firmly Kraft’s own throughout.

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel, a tone poem for large orchestra, is described by the composer as a parable, suggesting – in more universal or general terms – that "we struggle with forces which we understand but dimly; each struggle marks us for life". The music, however, does not set out to depict, let alone evoke Jacob’s fight with the Angel. It is on the whole more abstract and mostly reflects the composer’s own vision. Kraft’s atonal idiom is perfectly suited to the purpose, and is in turns dramatic, energetic, meditative and – first and foremost – strongly communicative.

Full marks to all concerned, especially the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, for playing such unfamiliar repertoire with aplomb, conviction and commitment. Both soloists are excellent, and so is the recorded sound. A very fine release well worth investigating, for Kraft’s stylistically consistent, well-crafted music is simply too good to be ignored.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Michael Cookson



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