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Keith KRAMER (b.1970?)
Joseph Satava, David LaVorgna, Jessica Hanel Satava, George Weremchuk, Allam Ngim,
Hye-jung Hong, Keith Kramer, Helen Garner, Charles P. Richardson
Various ensembles

NAVONA RECORDS NV5859 [76:12 + 64:15]

Experience Classicsonline

Spatial Extremes, for solo piano (1996) [12:00]
Insurmountable, for flute and piano (2012) [7:39]
Brink, for soprano saxophone and harp (2009) [8:33]
Finite..., for woodwind quintet (2008) [9:43]
Wink of an Eye, for four clarinets and percussion (2007) [10:12]
Compact Disparity, for flute, soprano saxophone, bass trombone and string quartet (2005) [7:52]
In Double Quadruplicate, for flute, soprano saxophone, bass trombone, piano and string quartet (2010) [8:16]
Cathartic, for voice, flute, string quartet and piano (2010) [16:36]
Emerge (Symphony no.1) (2008) [20:13]
Inexplicable, for flute and string quartet (2005) [13:12]
Uncertainty Principle, for soprano saxophone and piano (1998) [14:37]
Inside (original version), for solo piano (1998) [3:22]
Snow, for electronic media (2003) [4:56]
Amalgam, for electronic media (2011) [1:17]
Left Behind, for voice and piano (1990) [1:59]
Helen Garner (soprano)
George Weremchuk (saxophone) (Uncertainty Principle)
Jeremiah Baker (saxophone) (Brink)
David LaVorgna (flute)
Jacqueline Pollauf (harp)
Charles Richardson (piano) (Left Behind)
Joseph Satava (piano) (Spatial Extremes, Insurmountable)
Hye-Jung Hong (piano) (Inside)
Alan Ngim (piano) (Uncertainty Principle)
Keith Kramer (electronics)
Mariner String Quartet (Phanos Dymiotis, Nicholas Currie, Michael Strauss, Adam Gonzalez)
Capitol Hill Chamber Players (David LaVorgna, Wes Nichols, Cheryl Hill, Maude Fish and Beth Graham) (Finite)
Sonora Ensemble (Edna Huang, Lynda Dembowski, Carolyn Agria, Denis Maloy and Greg Herron)/Keith Kramer (Wink of an Eye)
Beyond Sonic Boundaries Orchestra/Keith Kramer (Compact Disparity, In Double Quadruplicate, Cathartic)
Slovak National Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor (Emerge)
rec. Kramatic Mobile Studios, USA, 20 December 2006 (Spatial Extremes); 2 July 2009 (Brink); 2 March 2008 (Finite); summer 2007 (Wink of an Eye); Peabody Recording Studios, Baltimore MD, 7 May 2010 (Insurmountable); Merkin Hall, New York, 25 March 2006 (Compact Disparity); 6 November 2010 (In Double Quadruplicate; Cathartic, live); Bratislava, May 2008 (Emerge); Avalon Studios, Bethesda MD, 30 November 2005 (Inexplicable); Studio Center, Miami, 18 May 1998 (Uncertainty Principle); Studio 508, Baltimore, 12 March 2000 (Inside); UMBC Recital Hall, Baltimore, 30 April 1991 (Left Behind, live).
This generously-timed double CD set gives a handy all-round view of the music of US composer Keith Kramer. It mixes works for solo piano, chamber music, orchestral and even electronics, as recorded over the last two decades. This is Kramer's second monograph, following a release of two major works three or four years ago on MMC - see review.
Kramer's music is unequivocally modernistic, making much use of extended or experimental techniques, atonality, serialism and microtonality. On the other hand, with one exception, there are no random-sounding concatenations of sounds and the countless melodic fragments and frequent sense of structure make it still relatively approachable.
The first CD opens with Spatial Extremes, a boisterous, atonal work for piano. Fleet-fingered Joseph Satava holds the final chord for almost a minute. The tracklist describes the second piano work, Inside, a similar but much shorter piece, as being the "original version", but how many listeners are going to know there is a second?
Satava is joined by flautist David LaVorgna for the altogether more ethereal, but still tonally amorphous Insurmountable, which brings the listener right up to date with Kramer's current musical position. The flute melds almost effortlessly into Jeremiah Baker's soprano saxophone and the piano sonorities are taken up by Jacqueline Pollauf's harp for Brink, less modernistic than the first two pieces, and very vivid: Pollauf coaxes some amazing textures and colours from her instrument with a number of advanced techniques, though Baker is hardly less virtuosic.
Emerge is Kramer's First Symphony. A universe away from Barber's or even Kernisís First - there is in any case little that is distinctly American in Kramer's music - it is nevertheless an engrossing, structured orchestral tour de force, full of brooding tension and unusual textures, including the judicious use of a wind machine. This recording of Emerge has appeared previously on Navona, and quite recently at that - see review.
Most of the remaining major works - Finite, Wink of an Eye, Compact Disparity on CD 1 and In Double Quadruplicate, Cathartic, Inexplicable and Uncertainty Principle on CD 2 - have a similarly serious, darkish character offering up much nourishment for the intellect and emotions by way of variety and intensity. There is also some light-hearted jazziness in one or two pieces - particularly in the bass trombone and saxophone. Much of Kramer's music can be said to have an attractive neo-classical tinge. His titles do not do his music any favours - they seem to bear only a tenuous relationship to it, with little harm done swapping them around.
There are two works that feature Helen Garner's darkly expressiveness soprano, one of which, Cathartic, is among the highlights of the programme. The only disappointments here are Snow, a seemingly random succession of fairly monochrome electronic grunts resembling microphone wind noise, and Left Behind, which sounds as if it was recorded with a bargain basement microphone placed outside the room.
As the list above indicates, many performers were involved in the recording of these two discs, and most if not all of them deserve praise for their display of technique and discipline in Kramer's often difficult music. Kramer supplies his own item-by-item notes for the slimline booklet, although they generally provide background remarks or praise for these performers rather than direct information on his music. Incidentally, Navona can claim this year's prize for the smallest photographs of performers, with whole chamber ensemble line-ups shrunk to the size of a postage stamp.
The booklet slots in between two layers of card, the case itself being a foldout digipak. As usual with Navona, there is a CD-ROM section on one of the discs, where various non-essential odds and ends can be accessed via a computer: the booklet in digital format, identical to the paper one except that it includes performer biographies, desktop wallpaper and mobile phone ringtones, and, more interestingly, the full scores of all works except the two for electronics, and a 2006 video performance of Compact Disparity.
Sound quality is generally excellent, uniform despite the variety of dates and venues - only Left Behind disappoints.
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