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  Founder: Len Mullenger
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Karol RATHAUS (1895-1954)
Suite for Violin and 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 S.O; 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]


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A craftsman of exceptional skill Rathaus’s posthumous reputation seems to have been as a somewhat daunting exponent of the Hindemith Counterpoint school, a solecism this disc should go some way in dispelling. The three major works here, the Suites for Violin and for Orchestra and the orchestral Serenade come from a creatively fertile period in his compositional life, 1929-31. Whilst reflective of their time to some degree they also demonstrate a striking individuality. When it comes to form and colour and texture it would be hard to dismiss these works as Weimar eclecticism much less as a slavish appropriation of Hindemith’s method. He looms large of course but there was always more to Rathaus than simply walking in others’ footsteps.

Rathaus was born a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, gravitating like all ambitious young people to Vienna where he studied with Schrecker. Gifted as a pianist he clearly saw composition as his calling very early, following his teacher to Berlin. There he mixed in the youthful demi-monde, meeting and studied alongside Krenek and Hába, making his life there. He sensed the mood of the times however and left abruptly in 1932, ending up in New York via staging posts in Paris, London, and Hollywood. He didn’t like Hollywood at all.

The Suite for Violin (1929) is in four short conventional sounding movements. The opening movement ("Agitated and Vigorous") contains signs of Hindemith’s counterpoint. Listen to that remarkable brass counterpoint in particular. There is a sternness too, a driving insistence that, despite the occasional moments of lyrical reflection, can sound implacable. But the Rathaus lyricism is one tinged with hooded reserve as the Andante second movement well displays, with its shifting string solo lines. This also lends an emotionally euphonious element to his writing. He experiments with rhythm as well, introducing an unlikely but apt (Rathaus was born Tarnopol, in what is now Poland) Polonaise in the frisky Capriccio which he also decorates with a nightclub banjo twanging an independent line. The gestures are folk-like; the controlling hand knowingly sophisticated. The finale is bustling and colourful; chirping clarinets and a very brittle sign-off. Unlike some of his contemporaries Rathaus’s orchestration admitted a deal of light and colour and there’s always something to tease the ear in his scores.

The Suite for Orchestra followed the following year. Less distinctive than the earlier work perhaps, it’s a bustling affair with a full panoply of fugal and counterpoint development in the opening movement. A rather cool slow movement follows but the best movement is the third in which a sliver of an Andante (spectral voicings) leads to an ostinato-rich and energetic Allegro section. This has a thematic and virtuosic role for solo piano that adds yet greater colouristic resources to the score. This most unusual and unexpected interjection makes no reappearance in the finale which for all its apparent power generates considerable heat. It’s in the form of a march but at a controlled tempo, splendidly orchestrated. It makes its, perhaps ominous, point with well-directed effect. The Serenade of 1931 was the last work he wrote before leaving for Paris. This Goodbye to Berlin certainly casts its eye over the bars and night haunts of Weimar. The first movement sports motoric bubble before introducing us to the sound of a jazz band (saxophone and drum kit) and a dash of raucous abrasion. The Moderato second movement features the saxophone once again but this time singing a long cantilena - artist now following the previous movement’s artisan. There are interjections from the tightly muted dance-band trumpets and the massed, swaying strings. Neo-classical sprightliness – never whole-heartedly embraced – also puts in an appearance in the contrastive central section. The driving Ländler finale is bold, employs the piano and gruffly takes everyone by surprise. Rathaus signs off with a pianissimo staccato note – the rest is silence. The disc ends with the little Polonaise Symphonique, a product of his New York years. It’s an eventful, romantic processional with good block entries for brass and an air of nobility about it. It was first performed by Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony in 1943.

There’s not much air in the Concert Hall of Slovak Radio in Bratislava but then a burnished cushion would not have been Rathaus’s ideal medium. He’s certainly not spiky or brittle. He is surprisingly accommodating of traditional neo-romantic devices avoiding the luxuriantly sentimental and not much given to extended simplicities. The notes, which are clear-eyed and full of precision (Rathaus specialities), cite his pupil, Leo Craft, who has some apposite things to say. A most thought-provoking and entertaining disc.

Jonathan Woolf



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