Paul Polivnick / André Previn / Christopher Wilkins

William Kraft: Contextures II: The Final Beast; Interplay; Of Ceremonies, Pageants and Celebrations

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Few modern composers can write convincingly in an apocalyptic manner without inviting criticism for pretentiousness and bombast, and it seems from this 1989 Nonesuch release that William Kraft is not among them. His ponderous and unsatisfying cantata Contextures II: The Final Beast (1985-1986) -- adequately performed here by soprano Mary Rawcliffe, tenor Jonathan Mack, the Pasadena Boys Choir, the New Albion Ensemble, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under André Previn -- may summon up appropriately serious thoughts on war, death, and destruction; yet its effectiveness is undercut by its self-consciously grave tone, miscellany of antiwar texts, and eclectic mélange of musical styles. Kraft's message is undoubtedly sincere, and this ambitious work seems an honest expression of his pacifism, but his stylistic "dense-packing" comes off as inflated rhetoric, and the jumble of diverse elements confuses, making Contextures II more akin to Luciano Berio's Sinfonia than to, say, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem (both of which Kraft seems to have in mind as models). More enjoyable are the more abstract Interplay (1982-1984) and the colorful Of Ceremonies, Pageants, and Celebrations (1986-1987), which are less tortured in intent and therefore less egregious in presentation. The sound quality is too soft in Contextures II, but decent in the remaining works.

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