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Karol RATHAUS (1895-1954)
Piano Music - Volume 1
Fünf Klavierstücke, Op. 9 (1924) [23:44]
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8 (1924; rev. 1927) [21:02]
Trois Mazurkas, Op. 24 (1928) [9:10]
Zwei Stücke aus dem Ballet ‘Der letzte Pierrot’ (1926, arr. 1927) [7:22]
Three Excerpts from the Film Music for Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff (‘The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov’;1931) [6:12]
Daniel Wnukowski (piano)
rec. 2018, Casino Baumgarten, Vienna

The first volume in Toccata’s series devoted to Karol Rathaus’s piano music – all apparently in premiere recordings – traces a tight compositional focus on 1924-31, a period when he moved between Vienna and Berlin. His Op.9 was written in his late twenties and is a set of character pieces. The main features are somewhat indeterminate harmonies and a piquant sense of colour, as well as march-like stridency. Weimar brusqueness as well as biting intensity and orchestral drive predominate. This combination clearly represented features that proved attractive to good performers, given that it was played by Stefan Askenase, Jacob Gimpel and Eduard Steuermann.

You’re never really quite sure what key you’re in with Rathaus. In the case of the Second Piano Sonata, with its taut three-movement structure, the ethos of brusqueness here sounds post-Lisztian in its command, though the central movement – a Presto – generates a kinetic nervous energy barely mitigated by a slow finale that refuses to indulge reflective melancholy. Rathaus, being Galician, had Polish as his first language and it’s not unreasonable that he should have turned to the Mazurka in 1928. That said, his Three Mazurkas were not intended as a set and if the intention was to see Chopin set in a contemporary context, the idea was notably successful.

His ballet Der letzte Pierrot was his first significant success. Scheduled to be performed by Erich Kleiber in Berlin it was actually premiered by Georg Szell in May 1927. He made two arrangements derived from the work, a Valse sentimentale and a Dance of the Workers. The latter is a quite frantic mechanized affair with a brief reprieve before resumption. By the thirties Rathuas was scenting the value of film music, a career he was to pursue first in Paris and then in London before emigrating to America in 1939. There are three excerpts here for solo piano from the 1931 film The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov. Descriptive and attractive though they are, their brevity hardly gives one a comprehensive enough hearing of the material. There are two attractive enough songs but the most exciting and vernacular is the Gypsy scene, which provides a fiery workout for the pianist.

It’s Polish-Canadian Daniel Wnukowski who shoulders the filmic, ballet, sonata and other burdens in the recital and he proves a most able exponent, suggesting Rathaus’ vitality and also his more crabbed, harmonically aloof self. If anyone is going to write a booklet note on this subject, it’s Michael Haas.

Jonathan Woolf

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