Karl RATHAUS (1895-1954)
Suite for Violin & Orchestra Op.27 (1929)
Suite for Orchestra Op.29 (1930)
Serenade for Orchestra Op.35 (1931) 2
Polonaise Symphonique Op.52 (1943) 2
Dorota Anderszewska (violin)
Slovak Radio SO; Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra 2/Joel Eric Suben
Recorded [1-2] Bratislava, September 1995 and October 1997 and [3 - 4] Havirov,
CENTAUR CRC 2402
To the best of my knowledge this
is the first CD entirely devoted to Karol
Rathaus's music. Rathaus was born of Jewish
parents in Tarnopol (then Austria). He studied
in Vienna, at the Academy of Music in Schreker's
composition class. In 1920 he followed Schreker
to Berlin, joining Krenek and Haba. He made
a name for himself as a distinguished composer
and had a number of his works performed in
Germany and at ISCM festivals, earning some
critical success and a ten-year contract with
Universal Edition. In 1932 he left Germany
and went to Paris, then to London and eventually
to the States. He first settled on the West
Coast trying to work for Hollywood studios.
He found Hollywood uncongenial and moved once
more, to New York. There he became a professor
at Queens College where he taught until his
death in 1954.
His early works, such as both Suites and the Serenade Op.35, were clearly
products of their time and place, showing a clear affinity with the music
of Hindemith and Weill. Hindemith's influence is clearly audible in the Suite
for Violin & Orchestra Op.27 of 1927 and in the Suite for Orchestra Op.29
of 1930: hard-driven counterpoint, clear-cut melodies, "motorik" rhythms,
sharp-edged sonorities and an occasional ironic touch, as the banjo part
in both Suite Op. 27 and Serenade Op.35.
The Suite for Violin & Orchestra Op.27 is in four compact movements
as is the Suite for Orchestra Op.29. (The latter was first performed by Scherchen
at the 1930 ISCM Festival in Liège.) Obviously these pieces are good
examples of Rathaus's "no nonsense" attitude: the music is busy, colourful
with little repose though a good deal of variety and the slow movements are
rather cool and unsentimental. The last movement of the Suite for Orchestra
Op.29 is a rather savage, hard-driven March of some energy and violence.
The somewhat lighter Serenade Op. 35 completed in 1931 was premiered
during the 1933 ISCM Festival, the conductor being Eugen Jochum. It is a
slightly shorter piece of lighter character. The music is at times redolent
of Kurt Weill with prominent parts for saxophone, banjo and drum kit. The
last movement is a "hyperactive" Ländler with an important piano
part ending abruptly with an unexpected pp chord.
The Polonaise Symphonique Op. 52 completed in 1943 thus belongs to
Rathaus's American period. Rodzinski, then conductor of the New York
Philharmonic, asked a number of Polish musicians to provide a work for
performance. Rathaus proposed his recently completed Symphony No.3 Op.50
which Rodzinsky turned down. So the Polonaise Symphonique Op.52, written
within 10 days, was proposed and accepted by the Maestro. The music of this
fine piece understandably looks back at the composer's origins and is cast
in a smoother, somewhat more romantic idiom. It provides for a colourful,
though noble conclusion to this very interesting release well worth hearing
for it sheds some light on a composer whose achievement was - first - somewhat
overshadowed by that of Hindemith and Weill and - later - bluntly forgotten.
To quote the insert notes, "Rathaus' music was modern but not avant-garde,
learned but not academic".
The performances are all quite satisfying and the recorded sound, though
a bit on the dry side, entirely suited to Rathaus's unsentimental music.
Well worth hearing.