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Keith Kramer: Causal Dualism

Kramer / Micka / Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 10/30/2012 
Label:  Navona   Catalog #: 5886   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Keith Allan Kramer
Performer:  Ching Chen JuhlGottfried StogerDavid TaylorLisa Lee,   ... 
Conductor:  Vit Micka
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jade StringsMoravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KRAMER Causality 1. Duality 2. Flame of Attention 1 Vit Micka, cond; 2 Keith Kramer, cond; 2,3 Gottfried Stoger (sop sax); 1 Stanislav Behal (pn); 2 David Taylor (bs tbn); 2 Read more class="ARIAL12">Lisa Lee (vn); 2 Wei Tan (vn); 7 Ching Chen Juhl (va); 2 Clara Lee (vc); 1 Moravian PO NAVONA 5886 (71:10)

The present CD is a remastering from an earlier incarnation of the disc, which was reviewed in 31:6 by Colin Clarke. The remastering seems to have fixed the “rather thin” recorded sound of Duality described by Clarke, even if it is not the last word in sonics, and the CD includes one additional work, Flame of Attention.

From the opening mysterious sonorities and other-worldly textures of Causality, the listener will be drawn into the web of the music of Keith Kramer. Causality is scored for string orchestra, percussion, and piano, the latter being more part of the ensemble than a solo instrument. The mood of the work is essentially dark, but shimmering colors frequently break through the mood as points of light in a cloudless night.

As someone who maintains a high interest in apologetics, I was intrigued by the work’s title. The Law of Causality is a key component of classical apologetics, and from the program notes, it would appear that this was in the mind of the composer, for he describes the work as “a reflection of action and reaction that permeates through all events.” Thus it is that the stable (albeit rather dense) harmonies of the first movement produce the harmonic events of the remaining three movements. The opening tri-partite movement moves in its central section towards a more kinetic section, demonstrating organic growth from the initial sonority, but returns to the original stasis at its close. This movement is actually an arrangement of the second movement of Uncertainty Principle, which was included on a recital of Kramer’s music that I reviewed back in 35:4. The original work was scored for saxophone and piano, and the aural effect of the piece heard here is consequently quite different. The second movement is, if anything, more mysterious than the first, and opens with luminescent harmonics in the double basses, accompanied by whispers in the upper strings.

The third movement limits itself to the string instruments alone, and is a bit more tonally centered than the preceding movements. Something about the harmonies and figuration reminds me of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, but it might be just me. An irregular pulsating pizzicato rhythm lends interest to this movement. With 11 sections, the final movement is doubtless the most complex of the work, involving driving rhythms in quintuple meter and its kaleidoscopic array of metric structures. The piano also has a more prominent role in this movement than in any other, but is used mostly in percussive ways. The effect of the whole work is quite striking, and quite unlike any piece that I can recall: I was gripped in interest throughout its duration of more than half an hour. Kramer achieves originality through his personal harmonic and rhythmic language, and not because he is seeking it as an end in itself.

On a casual hearing, Duality might seem a bit aimless to the listener, but closer listening will reveal its subtleties in color, timbre, and figuration. Nevertheless, this work will demand more from the auditor than will Causality. Some of the interest is generated through the unusual colors produced by the juxtaposition of the soprano saxophone and the bass trombone, the latter often muted. The work is cast in four movements, “Divergence,” “Light,” “Glimpse,” and “Clarity.” There are extended passages that forego the string quartet that accompanies the two solo instruments, resulting in a rather thin texture. Tonality is eschewed in favor of fairly complex atonal sonorities—more overt than those in Causality, which allows in at least a modicum of modality. Once again, Kramer proves that, even in this more “difficult” style, he can write music that sounds like that of no one else. The composer gravitates in the work between conflict and agreement between his protagonists, a device that helps sustain interest in a work that defies easy formal analysis (at least with no recourse to a score). Another variable is the juxtaposition of fully notated music with portions that contain elements of improvisation.

Kramer’s impetus for the work seems to have been an examination of such lofty concepts as the self, peace, truth, self-actualization and individualistic self-expression, and in each of these movements, he seeks to explore these concepts. I will state that without prior knowledge of what is intended, few listeners would extract these concepts just hearing the music, which can be enjoyed on its own terms. I am tempted to diverge into a lengthy discourse exploring the 19th-century conflict between the followers of Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick and the disciples of Richard Wagner as it relates to the representation in music of such things, but I shall resist the impulse. In the final movement, there are a few licks that swerve almost into jazz territory, but don’t quite get there. This is a work that invites—nay demands—repeated listening, as it will not begin to reveal all of its secrets on a single hearing. The work’s intricacies are adroitly handled by bass trombonist David Taylor and soprano saxophonist Gottfried Stoger.

Flame of Attention, an addition to the previous incarnation of this CD, is set for solo soprano saxophone, and is also very capably rendered by saxophonist Stoger, who commissioned and premiered it in 1996. Its title is taken from the book by that title by J. Krishnamurti. As in the previous work, disparate elements, including sustained tones, trills, quick figures, flutterings, and the like are woven together in seemingly random fashion, but result in a convincing tapestry. Its two movements combined comprise just over five minutes of playing time.

All three works contained in this recital are well deserving of the attention of those interested in the music of our time. My favorite is Causality, which is an exceptionally strong work, and an important contribution to the chamber orchestra literature of our day. There are additionally scores and other bonus material on the CD that may be accessed through one’s computer.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Duality by Keith Allan Kramer
Performer:  Ching Chen Juhl (Viola), Gottfried Stoger (Soprano Saxophone), David Taylor (Bass Trombone),
Lisa Lee (Violin), Wei Tan (Violin), Clara Lee (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jade Strings
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2006 
Casuality by Keith Allan Kramer
Conductor:  Vit Micka
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999 
Length: 11 Minutes 31 Secs. 

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