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Keith Kramer: Emerge / Trevor, Satava, Lavorgna, Weremchuk, Slovak National Symphony

Kramer
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Navona   Catalog #: 5859   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Keith Kramer
Performer:  Joseph SatavaDavid LaVorgnaJessica Hanel SatavaGeorge Weremchuk,   ... 
Conductor:  Kirk TrevorKeith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak National Symphony OrchestraApres EnsembleCapitol Hill Chamber Players,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



KRAMER Spatial Extremes. Insurmountable. Brink. Finite. Wink of an Eye. Compact Disparity. Emerge (Symphony No. 1). In Double Quadruplicate. Cathartic. Inexplicable. Uncertainty Principle. Inside. Snow. Amalgam. Left Behind various soloists and conductors; Capitol Hill C Players; Sonora Ens; Beyond Sonic Boundaries O; Slovak Natl SO; Mariner Str Qrt; electronic media NAVONA NV5859 (2 CDs: 140: 54)


The liner notes describe the music of Keith Kramer as “at times subtle and restrained, and other times Read more ferocious and demanding.” I find that to be a fair assessment of the music heard within these two CDs. His harmonic language is bitonal, occasionally atonal, but not 12-tone, and he contrasts and plays with different rhythms in a most intriguing manner. According to the notes, Spatial Extremes was Kramer’s breakthrough piece, written in 1996. Joseph Savata gives it a finely nuanced and sensitive reading, responding to both the quietude of most of the piece and the emotional outbursts in between. Insurmountable, written with pianist Savata in mind but also for flutist David LaVorgna, is in a similar vein.


I like Brink , originally written as music for dancing, even better than the first two pieces because Kramer uses tremendous imagination in his writing for a soprano saxophone and harp, sometimes using the lowest range of the latter instrument in combination with soft, breathy notes from the soprano sax’s lowest range. In places, the soprano sax sounds much like a tenor flute, and is actually used that way from a technical perspective, including flutter notes that resemble the cries of a sea bird. The harp, too, has some unusual passages in which the strings are muted, the result sounding much like a very softly played harpsichord.


As the disc moves into Finite ¸ a woodwind quintet, I begin to notice similarities (though not identical features) to the music of Poulenc, Ibert, and Segerstam, three composers I am very fond of. (In fact, the performance itself has much of the same joie de vivre as the Ibert Quintet recorded many years ago by the legendary New York Woodwind Quintet.)


Wink of an Eye is remarkably diverse in rhythm and, again, very creative in its use of texture. Indeed, here I would go so far as to say that, although it does not swing, the writing for clarinets owes a bit to their use in jazz ensembles. I also especially like the mysterious gong effect at the end. Compact Disparity, the title of which refers (according to the composer) to the “condensed packaging of modern society,” whether in prepackaged food or musical sound bites, is performed here by a group called the Beyond Boundaries Orchestra, a seven- or eight-piece group (depending on the performance necessities) apparently led by flutist LaVorgna, though conducted here by the composer. The title’s origin, Kramer says, refers to our modern tendency toward music that sounds nice and is easily digested while saying nothing, but his actual realization is much more than that, and I find it quite enjoyable.


By contrast, his Symphony No. 1, titled “Emerge,” begins and ends with a wind machine. In the middle of the piece, the entire orchestra breathes with the wind machine, which brings all of the performers together in unison. (It’s a very strange sound!) Ah yes, this music is very Segerstam-like. Here, for the first time, Kramer does indeed use 12-tone techniques, and there is a collective improvisation section that makes the music even more complex. Kramer says, in the notes, that for this session some members of the Vienna Philharmonic were moonlighting with the Slovak National Symphony.


In Double Quadruplicate, written two years after the symphony, is much more atonal and also more mysterious, starting in the center of an atonal chord and breaking into dark and emotionally disturbing shards of sound. Nearly all of the writing here is in the center or bottom ranges of the instruments. Despite the dark, mysterious sound of the music, textures are clear and each instrument’s role clearly defined. (Very high violins, playing softy and almost ghostly, contrast effectively with the low winds and brass.) An ostinato rhythm suddenly appears, occasionally pausing for brief interludes by cello or low winds before moving on. Perhaps ironically, the ostinato rhythm does not lighten the music’s mood at all.


Cathartic, written the same year as the previous piece, sounds like an extension of it. Glissando passages covering more than an octave also add to the feeling of unease. In the second and fourth movements, a soprano sings poetry of a Zen experience. Inexplicable, written for flute and string quartet, seems like an extension of Kramer’s other works during the first decade of the new century. Although he claims to have been inspired by the quartet’s first violinist, there is much unaccompanied flute writing, and very effective it is, too. There is a lot of “space” in this piece, in fact more than in any work on the set since Finite. Both melodic fragments and cadences end on unexpected notes. In Uncertainty Principle, the piano used—or the acoustic setting of it—makes the instrument almost sound like a tack piano, which gives the music an unusual flavor. Here, the soprano sax writing is more conventional for the instrument, though the language is consistently atonal.


Inside is a solo piano piece built around whole and half notes and much use of space, though there are also flurries of 16ths. The electronic piece Snow starts with whooshes that sound more like a snowplow getting stuck on your street. This was the first piece on the set that, frankly, I don’t like, mostly because I tend to dislike electronic music that sounds like a Slurpee. Amalgam is an electronic piece that sounds like the (generally) catastrophic ending of a Spike Jones recording. Without Jones’s deft musical subtlety, however, I find it superfluous. I do, however, very much like the song Left Behind that ends the CD. Although soprano Helen Garner has a nice, clear voice, the rather distant miking of this live performance tends to obscure her diction, but the music is good and the performance full of life.


This is a wonderful introduction to an interesting composer whose work is diversified enough in terms of texture and style to make it interesting.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1. Emerge by Keith Kramer
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak National Symphony Orchestra
2. Spatial Extremes by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Joseph Satava (Piano)
3. Insurmountable by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Joseph Satava (Piano), David LaVorgna (Flute)
4. Brink by Keith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Apres Ensemble
5. Finite by Keith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Capitol Hill Chamber Players
6. Wink of An Eye by Keith Kramer
Conductor:  Keith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonora Ensemble
7. Compact Disparity by Keith Kramer
Conductor:  Keith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jade Strings,  Beyond Sonic Boundaries Orchestra
8. In Double Quadruplicate by Keith Kramer
Conductor:  Keith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Beyond Sonic Boundaries Orchestra,  Azimuth Quartet
9. Cathartic by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Jessica Hanel Satava (Soprano)
Conductor:  Keith Kramer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Beyond Sonic Boundaries Orchestra,  Azimuth Quartet
Notes: 
I. Trichotomy 1: Prelude
II. Dichotomy 1: Karma Bleeds
III. Trichotomy 2: Interlude
IV. Dichotomy 2: Blanket
V. Trichotomy 3: Postlude
 
10. Inexplicable by Keith Kramer
Performer:  David LaVorgna (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mariner String Quartet
11. Uncertainty Principle by Keith Kramer
Performer:  George Weremchuk (Soprano Saxophone), Allam Ngim (Piano)
Notes: 
In three movements. 
12. Inside by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Hye-jung Hong (Piano)
13. Snow by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Keith Kramer (Electronic Media)
14. Amalgram by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Keith Kramer (Electronic Media)
15. Left Behind by Keith Kramer
Performer:  Helen Garner (Soprano), Charles P. Richardson (Piano)

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