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Causal Dualism
Duality (2006) [32:55]
Causality (1999) [35:00]
David Taylor (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]
Experience Classicsonline

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 an hour.
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.
Carla Rees


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