Walter Kaufmann – String Quartets Nos 7 & 11, etc
ARC Ensemble (Chandos)
String Quartets Nos 7 & 11; Sonatina No. 12; Septet; Violin Sonata No. 2
Chandos CHAN 20170 77:37 mins
Nazi persecution prompted an array of musicians from Central Europe to seek refuge throughout all corners of the globe during the years before the Second World War. The vast majority found their way to the United States, but others opted for far more unlikely destinations. Amongst these was the Czech-born composer Walter Kaufmann (1907-84) who sailed to Bombay in the mid 1930s to become music director of All India Radio.
The experience of living and working in such a different cultural environment seems to have had a profound impact on Kaufmann’s compositional development which on the evidence of these world premiere recordings attempted a fusion between the melodic and rhythmic elements of Indian music and a distinctly 20th-century European musical tradition largely stemming from Bartók, Debussy and Stravinsky. The combination of these two very different elements, coupled with some notable allusions to Bohemian folk music and even klezmer, gives Kaufmann’s music a very distinctive voice.
Of all the pieces compellingly performed by the ARC Ensemble, I was particularly taken by the Septet for the unusual combination of three violins, viola, two cellos and piano. This one-movement work presents striking juxtapositions between passages of fiercely percussive intensity and more reflective mysterious material, and encompasses an impressive range of emotions within its 15-minute duration. The Seventh and 12th Quartets are also attractive, as is the resourceful arrangement for clarinet and piano of Sonatina No. 12 for violin and piano, whose likeable dance movements could easily become a favoured repertoire piece for the instrument. Hopefully the ARC Ensemble’s sterling efforts on behalf of this completely unknown composer will stimulate further exploration of Kaufmann’s output, including the considerable amount of music he wrote after 1946 in Canada and the United States.