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Karol RATHAUS (1895-1964)
Trio Serenade for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 69 (1953) [25:16]
Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, Op. 53 (1944) [22:00]
Karol Rathaus Ensemble
rec. 2019, The Karol Szymanowski State General Music School Concert Hall (Op. 69); 2020, The Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw (Op. 53)
DUX 1712 [47:19]

Prior to 1989, the music of 20th century Polish émigré composers had little or no exposure in its native land. Gradually, over the last thirty years, things are beginning to change for the better, with this music now being performed and recorded. Karol Rathaus was one such victim. A composer and pianist, he was one time hailed by German critics as “the hope of new music”. He’d studied composition in Vienna and Berlin with Franz Schrecker, making a name for himself in concert pieces, stage and film music. When the Nazis came to power, being a Jew, he was unable to establish a foothold in Europe. From 1934 to 1938 he sought opportunities in London. Later he made his way to the States, and between 1940 and 1954 taught composition in New York. He composed over 140 orchestral, chamber and solo works.

The Trio Serenade for Violin, Cello and Piano dates from June 1953. It was a commission from the Albeneri Trio, and was dedicated to them. They premiered it on 31 January 1954 in New York. It’s cast in four movements. The first movement makes its presence felt with some opening declamatory chords. Rathaus pitches combative elements against more serene ones. Dialogue between the instruments takes a primary role. The Scherzando which follows is bubbly and high-spirited. The third movement, marked Andantino con espressione, is ushered in on the high reaches of the violin. It opens into a beautiful movement of wistful longing, sombre cello narrative and piano argeggios. The violin’s high notes have an ethereal quality, and we seem to be transported to a world of dreams. We’re gradually awakened and brought back to life in the finale, which is animated and rhythmically buoyant.

Nine years earlier in 1944, when on holiday with his family in New Hampshire, the composer penned his Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano. It was premiered in New York in December of the same year. The opening movement has a mysterious and questioning quality to it. As it progresses it seems to become more troubled and unsettled. The central movement is polyphonic, angular and brusque at times. The Epilogue final movement is expansive and pensive, with the odd cry of pain.

Neither Trio has been published, despite opus numbers. They exist in manuscript form in Rathaus’ archive, housed at Queen’s College, City University of New York. The performers had to painstakingly decipher the composer’s handwritten notation.

These two captivating and compelling scores are performed with infectious zeal. The musicians demonstrate a real love and commitment to the music. They’ve been well balanced in the recording process, and the sound captured is ideal. It’s a pity that the CD duration is only 47 minutes, and that another of Rathaus’ chamber works couldn’t have been squeezed in.

Stephen Greenbank

Karol Rathaus Ensemble
Marcin Hałat (violin)
Marcin Mączyński (cello)
Piotr Lato (clarinet)
Aleksandra Hałat (piano)

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