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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]
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Centaur is one of the oldest and largest independent classical labels in the USA and they delight in providing recordings of contemporary music. For this release Centaur have travelled to the Czech Republic to record four of Leo Kraft’s orchestral scores.

Kraft was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922 and as well as composing is active as an educator, writer on musical topics, and author. Kraft holds degrees from Queen’s College CUNY and Princeton University. Karol Rathaus, Randall Thompson and Nadia Boulanger were his mentors in composition.

While the larger part of Kraft's work is chamber music, he has also written orchestral, piano, vocal, band and electronic music. His varied compositions have been performed and recorded in the USA and abroad. His Symphony in One Movement was performed by the American Composers’ Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in 1995.

Kraft is currently editorial advisor and writer for the New Music Connoisseur and is past President of the American Music Center and Professor Emeritus of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College CUNY. Kraft was also Distinguished-Composer-in-Residence at New York University (1989-1992). Kraft's music is published by Seesaw Music and Carl Fischer and has been recorded on the CRI, Capstone, Albany and Centaur labels. He is affiliated with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

Kraft's recent works include The Vision of Isaiah for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by Jo Ann Rice and Florilegium Chamber Choir, Jacob Wrestles with the Angel for large orchestra, Melodies from the South for solo bassoon, written for Carrie Smelser, Piano Fantasy, commissioned by the Maldeb Foundation (Queen’s College) for the pianist Mimi Stern-Wolfe, The Five Winds for wind quintet, commissioned by the Dorian Quintet and Flute Variations for solo flute commissioned by Laurel Ann Maurer.

The opening work on this Centaur release is the Clarinet Concerto reworked in 2003 with this recording in mind. The concerto is for a virtuoso clarinettist and a medium-sized orchestra. It is an assertive work in three movements, all of which have a strong rhythmic propulsion and none of which is very slow. Kraft describes how, in writing the piece, he allowed his fondness for American popular music to rise to the surface. He wrote the score for the Brooklyn Philharmonic's Meet the Moderns concert series under conductor Lukas Foss. It was described in the New York Times: "...combined idiomatic solo writing with a dense accompanimental web of orchestral sound. The concerto is a work of scope and dignity which did not preclude a jaunty central scherzo and a concluding wail that seemed to have escaped from the Klezmer repertory." New York-born clarinettist and long-time Vienna citizen Roger Salander is an expert performer and displays a lovely tone throughout this fascinating score. The orchestra perform with control and precision.

Composed in 1985, Kraft's Symphony in One Movement is a major concert work in four large continuous sections: an exposition, a scherzo, a slow part and a recapitulation. The first performance was given by the American Composers Orchestra in Carnegie Hall and conducted by Paul Dunkel. The Village Voice described the score as, "...often hard-driving, orchestrated with a shrewd balancing of orchestral sections and with a proud expectation of virtuosity and Sessions-esque eloquence." Suben secures committed and responsive playing. There were occasions I feel when a touch more vigour would have improved their interpretation.

The score Jacob Wrestles with the Angel is a dramatic tone poem for large orchestra. Kraft composed the work in 2000 inspired by the story of the patriarch Jacob in the Genesis. The tone poem reflects the tense struggle and agitation of the main figure. It begins with a chord that includes all twelve notes and concludes with the same chord. This recording offers excellent playing in a compelling account of this fine orchestral score.

The concluding work is Pacific Bridges.. Kraft wrote this for the Geigen String Orchestra of Tokyo and clarinettist Edward Gilmore. It is cast in six diverse sections making subtle use of a Japanese scale. The clarinet role is partly soloistic, but also, at times, blended with the strings. The title of the score suggests its significance. Kraft explains how the music is meant as a connection between the people of Japan and the USA. The composer sincerely hopes that Pacific Bridges will contribute to mutual understanding between the Japanese and the American people. In this performance Jerzy Kosek secures a powerful and purposeful performance. Talented Czech clarinettist Zbigniew Kaleta displays considerable artistry with a pleasing timbre.

Using a Czech Republic recording venue the engineers have provided splendid sound quality. The booklet notes written by the composer are reasonably interesting and informative.

Impressive and accessible contemporary scores that are given fine performances.

Michael Cookson


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