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Karol RATHAUS (1895-1964)
Violin Sonata No.1, Op.14 (1925) [22:00]
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.43 (1937) [24:31]
Suite for violin and piano, Op.27 (1929) [14:24]
Karolina Piątkowska-Nowicka (violin)
Bogumiła Weretka-Bajdor (piano)
rec. July and December 2015, Stanislaw Moniuszko Academy of Music Concert Hall, Gdańsk
DUX 1347 [60:57]

Though Rathaus’s music is becoming slowly better known on disc it seems as if these are the first recordings of the two violin sonatas. The fact that Daniel Frühwirth and Henri Sigfridsson recorded the Suite for violin and piano a number of years ago (AVIE 0009) seems not to have stimulated much curiosity with regard to the companion sonatas, composed at roughly the same time, so it’s good that Dux has resolved this lacuna.

One can infer the kind of stylistic position occupied by the Op.14 sonata via the nature of its first performer, the violinist Stefan Frankel who premiered it with Rathaus in 1926. Frankel was dedicated to promoting new music for the violin and was a fine performer of Kurt Weill. The sonata is expressionist in places with unsettled harmonies reflecting the influence, doubtless, of Schoenberg. Yet its puckishness is also inescapable in the Central Intermezzo where the influence of Debussy is also resonant. With a Rondo finale that explores a sinewy, brittle patina this is a Weimar work that accords transitions and contrasts but makes no insinuating concessions.

By the time he wrote his Second Sonata in 1937 he had been forced to move to London. Unlike the earlier sonata, which was published by Universal Edition, the Op.43 sonata still awaits publication. His mature style here has softened somewhat, with all elements sounding more assimilated than the earlier work in which the Schoenberg-Zemlinksy qualities rubbed shoulders perhaps too fraternally with Gallic impressionism. The music in 1937 is tightly contoured and assertive, full of contrasts and once again formally speaking avoiding a single slow movement, rather embedding slower sections into a contrastive fabric. The powerfully engaged piano writing in the finale goads the violin to ever more intensity. Once again Rathaus’s stylistic openness is never in doubt and receptive hearers will enjoy his vivid and expressive writing.

The Suite is similarly strong on contrast, even craggy contrast, and this performance reminds one, as the Frühwirth perhaps didn’t to such an extent, how influential Ravel must have been on Rathaus – congruent with his absorption of Debussy. The Capriccio third movement sounds strongly in thrall to the slow movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata.

Karolina Piątkowska-Nowicka has rather a viola-like tone but plays the three works with stylish assurance. Her playing and the studio recording are alike more direct in the Suite. Dux’s studio has a crisp, clean acoustic whereas the Avie has something of a spread to it. That said I rather prefer Frühwirth’s crisper tempo in the Suite’s finale. Bogumiła Weretka-Bajdor throughout is an accomplished partner.

This disc reflects Rathaus’s journey to accommodate tonal and non-tonal elements in his music. With straight-forwardly useful notes, there’s a valuable amount to learn from the performances.

Jonathan Woolf



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