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Karol RATHAUS (1895-1954)
Violin sonata, Op 14 (1925) [24:37]
Heinz TIESSEN (1887-1971)
Duo-Sonata, Op 35 (1925) [15:52]
Paul ARMA (1905-1987)
Violin Sonata (1949) [30:31]
Judith Ingolfsson (violin)
Vladimir Stoupel (piano)
rec. November 2020, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dahlem, Berlin

There’s valuable programmatic novelty here. Karol Rathaus and Heinz Tiessen wrote their Violin Sonatas in 1925 whilst Paul Arma’s example comes from 1949 and only Rathaus’ sonata has been recorded before.

I’ve reviewed Rathaus’ Op 14 sonata in the context of his chamber works for violin on Dux (review) which I presumed, rightly or wrongly, was the work’s premiere recording. Its quietly intense expressionist elements are as clear in this latest recording as in that earlier one, but so too is the music’s rhapsodic element and the almost demotic piano mocking toward the end of the first movement, a reminder that this is musically an analogue almost of George Grosz. The music’s modulated astringency and its crisp tart angularity must have been perfect for its first performer, Stefan Frenkel, a noted exponent of the music of Kurt Weill. The trills and answering piano phrases in the finale wind down to decisive stillness, a notably confident gesture after the barely concealed earlier turbulence.

Rathaus’s chamber music has yet to enter the repertoire other than on disc, and that’s even more the case with Heinz Tiessen, his older contemporary, whose music was played by such luminaries as Furtwängler, Erdmann and Kulenkampff. A prominent founding member of the Society for Contemporary Music in 1922 he perfected a kind of free tonality in his works, perfectly shown in this Duo-Sonata. This is an oddly structured work with a very brief opening Praeludium followed by two movements of increasing girth. He shares a rhapsodic predilection with Rathaus though the expressive contours of Tiessen’s sonata are more marked, his tonality looser. There’s a very beautiful oasis of calm in the central slow movement before the crisp asymmetric finale, with fulsome exchanges, generates that tell-tale unsettled Berlin unease. Triste lyricism from time to time is maybe what inclines the sleeve note writer to allude to Richard Strauss’ influence.

Incidentally though the notes rightly don’t concern themselves with discographic minutiae there’s a link between Rathaus and Tiessen beyond their Weimar modernism. Frenkel, who premiered the Rathaus, also recorded Tiessen’s Totentanz Melodie, Op 29.

Both these sonatas incarnate the Brittle School of 1925, but Arma is clearly from a different time and place. He was born Imre Weisshaus and studied with Bartók in Budapest, later joining the Budapest Piano Trio as its distinguished pianist. He escaped Germany to live in France which is where he changed his name. His sonata too is very distinctively structured, perhaps even more so than Tiessen’s, given that the first movement is longer than the following three movements put together. This work encodes some melancholic and even folkloric figures, its introspection framed as a kind of free quasi-improvised rhapsody. Its elasticity is certainly striking, and I don’t think it’s too much to read into the long opening Lento a kind of memorialising element. Arma is good at rhythmic vitality, with some athletic off-beats in the third movement Allegro, its crispness bordering on nervous tension prefacing a predominantly mournful and brief Postlude.

Judith Ingolfsson and Vladimir Stoupel are active exponents of overlooked twentieth-century repertoire and I’ve already listened to their Rudi Stephan (coupled with Magnard – see review.) Their exploratory curiosity has enriched the discography before now and this latest disc is a good example of their selectivity and discernment. The performances and recordings are good. It’s simply a surmise on my part but I can imagine the Lento of the Arma being taken somewhat more swiftly but I like how Ingolfsson and Stoupel mould it. Incidentally, the great Hungarian violinist Gabriella Lengyel performed Arma’s Divertimento (see review) so maybe somewhere in the archives is her performance of this Sonata.

Jonathan Woolf

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