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Walter KAUFMANN (1907-1984)
Chamber Works
String Quartet no.7 (before 1939) [24:17]
String Quartet no.11 (before 1939) [18:34]
Septet for 3 violins, viola, 2 cellos and piano (before 1946) [14:52]
Violin Sonata no.2, Op.44 (before 1946) [10:37]
Sonatina no.12 for violin and piano (arr. for clarinet and piano) (before 1946) [9:11]
ARC Ensemble
rec. 2020, Koerner Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto
Premiere Recordings
CHANDOS CHAN20170 [77:37]

I’ve been following closely the remarkable ‘Music in Exile’ series on Chandos and, by my reckoning, this new album is the fifth in the series. Once again, the artists in the spotlight are the ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory, Toronto), a Grammy Award winning group of musicians, one of Canada's most distinguished cultural ambassadors. Their area of achievement has been “the research and recovery of works that were suppressed and marginalized under the 20th century's repressive regimes”. In the process they’ve uncovered some musical masterpieces, hitherto unknown. I was fortunate to review two other releases in the series, one devoted to Jerzy Fitelberg (review), the other to Szymon Laks (review), two composers considered ‘entartete’ or ‘degenerate’, banned by the Third Reich and forced to flee Europe during the 1930s.

All of the music presented here is receiving its premiere recording. In fact, as far as I’m aware, none of Kaufmann’s music has ever appeared either on LP or CD. So, this is a first, and an exciting prospect at that. Reading around the subject, Kaufmann was prolific, with a compositional oeuvre that included six symphonies, several concertos, film scores, chamber music, songs, solo piano works and over two dozen operas.

The composer hailed from Karlsbad, now Karlovy Vary, a spa town in the Czech Republic. He attended the musikhochschule in Berlin, where Franz Schrecker taught him composition. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, seeing the writing on the wall, he travelled to Bombay, with a desire to “explore the music of India in situ”. He worked as director at  All India Radio, and its signature tune, used to this day, was a melody he composed in 1936 based on raga Shivaranjini. After brief sojourns in the USA and England and a return visit to India, he secured a conductor’s post in Winnipeg, where he stayed for about eight years. He spent his remaining years in Bloomington, Indiana teaching.

The bulk of Kaufmann’s manuscripts are housed at the William and Gayle Cook Music Library in Bloomington, with some held at Harvard and others privately owned. Very few of his works have opus numbers, and it’s difficult to ascribe exact dates of composition in many cases. What is certain is that the music presented on this disc was composed whilst Kaufmann was in India. Fair copies of String Quartets 7 and 11 are dated March and April 1939 respectively. The latter is certainly my favorite work on the disc. It’s a superbly crafted work in four movements. The outer ones, especially, are impregnated by the Shivaranjani Raga. Yet, the whole quartet has an exotic, oriental flavour. In the final movement, amid the brutal coruscations, Kaufman makes a tongue in cheek reference to his All India Radio tune.

The Seventh Quartet has less spice and less sense of adventure. This time Kaufmann cast it in five movements. The first movement I find rather nondescript. The Sostenuto cantabile which follows has a soothing stillness, improvisatory in character. The ARC Ensemble conjure up some diaphanous sonorites. There’s similar luminosity in the fourth movement, whilst the last movement is spiky, animated and rhythmically buoyant.

The single movement Septet for three violins, viola, two cellos and piano was penned at a later date. Once again the composer was set on a course to meld Indian and Western cultures, and one can detect the powerful influence of Stravinsky in the persistent, relentless ostinatos which confer a savage aura on the work. There are moments midway when the music strays into a more restful demeanour. Yet, throughout, there’s much unease and disquiet.

Strategically placed between the three major works are two briefly-cast sonatas; well one Sonata for violin and piano and a Sonatina, originally for violin and piano but here arranged for clarinet and piano. Both works are approximately 10 minutes in length and both have three movements. The Sonata No. 2, Op. 44 adopts a fast-slow-fast template. Erika Raum makes a sterling job of the violin part. After a melancholic Adagio central movement, there’s an energetic finale. The violinist’s double stops and pizzicatos add plenty of pizzaz and sparkle. The Sonatina No. 12 for clarinet and piano has a captivating opener, with a long drawn out melody on the clarinet, supported by a gentle rocking accompaniment, discreetly contoured on the piano by Kevin Ahfat. A bubbly Intermezzo has jazzy elements to it, whilst the finale has a luminescent radiance.

The ARC Ensemble play with impeccable musicality, and they’ve been beautifully recorded. Simon Wynberg’s booklet notes warrant the highest praise. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
ARC Ensemble
Erika Raum (violin)(Violin Sonata)
Marie Bérard (violin)
Steven Dann (viola)
Thomas Wiebe (cello)
Josquin Valdepeñas (clarinet)
Kevin Ahfat (piano)
Special Guests
Jamie Kruspe violin (Septet)
Kimberly Jeong cello (Septet)

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