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Walter KAUFMANN (1907-1984)
String Quartet No.11 (before 1939) [18:34]
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.44 (before 1946) [10:37]
String Quartet No.7 (before 1939) [24:17]
Violin Sonatina No.12 arr. Clarinet and Piano (before 1946) [9:11]
Septet (before 1946) [14:52]
ARC Ensemble
rec. January 2020, Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto
CHANDOS CHAN20170 [77:37]

Walter Kaufmann was born in Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary) in 1907. He studied composition with Schreker in Berlin, taking musicology studies with Curt Sachs who introduced the young man to the music of India, some of which was then available on gramophone discs. Briefly an assistant to Bruno Walter, he then went to Prague meeting numerous members of Kafka’s circle – in fact he rented a room from Kafka’s mother – before the rise of National Socialism forced him to leave his native country and obtain a visa to India. Here he was soon appointed to the position of Director of European Music at All India Radio in Bombay, the role held by John Foulds in Delhi. After the war he came to London to score documentaries for the Rank Organisation and shortly after he emigrated to North America. He taught piano in Nova Scotia before becoming conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony on the recommendations of Adrian Boult and Ernest MacMillan. In 1956 he made his final move, to teach at Indiana University’s School of Music in Bloomington.

All the chamber music in this disc dates from his years in India. Both the Seventh and Eleventh String Quartets were written a year or so before 1939 – nothing here can be dated definitively – and, like everything here, show a complex confluence of musical influences. The Quartet No.7 is in five movements and shows more influence from Bartók than from any Czech models. The sonority is fascinatingly varied and can move between sacred-sounding and profane. The main impression though is one of nervous oscillation as well as an embedded vivaciously dancing folkloric quality – sample the central Allegro molto of the quartet to see if it appeals (it probably will). There’s even something Debussian about the aerial clarity of the ensuing Andantino whilst the finale’s running pizzicati and accompanying figures, and a surfeit of other details, point to his employment of Indian Classical music, notably of course its scalar implications.

If you think this too indigestible a mix, the Eleventh Quartet, a more compact four-movement work, reinforces and even expands the intensity of his musical assimilations. From its uneasy Nocturnal opening, replete with Eastern European elements, and village-drenched (once again) Bartók-inspired folk fiddling, we are in for a rich array of expressive feeling. Take the trudging, almost ground bass element that animates the yearning slow movement or the terse and queasy murmuring in the cello in the sort-of Scherzo. Or, again, take the syncopated passages in the finale that prefigure a burgeoning out into klezmer-influenced dance.

It’s clear that there is a lot going on in Kaufmann’s chamber music. The Violin Sonata, written before he left India for London, has ‘Oriental’ melody, but also clear-cut lines, and a crisp precision led, often as not, by the piano rather than the violin. Quiet melancholia infuses the central slow movement, as does a keening quality, before a brilliantly vivacious finale, complete with contrasting B section. The Sonatina No.12 was written for violin and piano but was also arranged for clarinet, which is the form in which it’s heard here. This is really delightful, lyrical music, its Intermezzo full of darting firefly lines, not-quite-jazz and not really neo-classical but Poulenc-like in many ways. The final work is the Septet in one movement for three violins, viola, two cellos and piano. It divides clearly into sections. The first employs the piano quite percussively and crisply, the strings remaining terse and urgent, some of the most unsettling and angry-sounding music in the programme. Some sections are clotted, others full of delicacy, some Indo-Asian. The Adagio section has a remarkable compound of Hassidic and Indian influence, the music eventually ending in affecting, limpid quiet.

Kaufmann wrote a huge amount, including a large portfolio of operas, eighty works with orchestra including six symphonies, a number of concertos, lots of songs and piano music. High praise goes to the players of ARC Ensemble and whilst it’s invidious to pick among them, Erika Raum and Kevin Ahfat star in the Sonata No.2 and Joaquin Valdepeńas makes a fine show in the Sonatina. There are fine notes, and the excellent recording quality ensures that these premiere recordings are heard in the best light. This ‘Music in Exile’ series also includes chamber works by Ben-Haim, Jerzy Fitelberg and Szymon Laks, and whilst there’s no indication that there will be a second volume devoted to Kaufmann his music certainly warrants increased exposure.

Jonathan Woolf

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