Compositions: Piano works
Performers: Daniel Wnukowski p
Catalogue Number: TOCCATA TOCC0511
Karol Rathaus was born in what is now the Ukraine but became a Polish citizen. Like many Jewish musicians, he was uprooted by the war and eventually settled in the USA. Although he had been one of the first serious composers to write for films (notably The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov in Germany in 1930), he failed to find movie work in Hollywood. He finally settled in New York and took up a teaching post, his early successes forgotten.
Rathaus’s major works have been recorded since his death in 1954, including his three symphonies. His first two symphonies are imposing and difficult, but his 40-minute Third is a masterpiece. His dark, brooding Piano Concerto is a tougher version of Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante, while his successful ballet score Der Letzte Pierrot shows an unexpectedly light touch. (Two transcriptions from it appear in this recital).
The piano works in this first volume come from his early years in Berlin. While Rathaus was reputedly a virtuoso pianist, the piano was not his primary means of expression. As a result, this music seems to be a random collection of harmonic and textural ideas that would be put to use more coherently in later symphonic works. Even the rugged Second Sonata suffers from this. Wnukowski plays with sympathetic understanding, but for all the program’s interest the best of Rathaus lies elsewhere.