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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, February 1996
CENTAUR CRC 2402 [56:04]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

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.

Hubert Culot

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