Kaufmann: Chamber Works (CD Review)

Includes: String Quartet No.11; Sonata No. 2, Op. 44 for Violin and Piano; String Quartet No. 7; Sonatina No. 12 for Violin and Piano (arranged for clarinet and piano); Septet for Three Violins, Viola, Two Cellos, and Piano. ARC Ensemble (Erika Raun and Marie Berard, violins; Steven Dann, viola; Thomas Wiebe, cello; Joaquin Valdepenas, clarinet; Kevein Ahfat, piano) with Jamie Kruspe, violin, and Kimberly Jeong, cello (in the Septet). Chandos CHAN 20170.

By Karl W. Nehring

This new release from Chandos is the first commercial recording devoted to music by the Czech-born Jewish composer Walter Kaufmann (1907-1984). Not the first recording of these particular pieces, mind you, but the first commercial recording of any of Kaufmann’s music. All of the pieces on this release were composed between 1934 and 1946 when Kaufmann was a refugee in India, having fled Europe in response to the rise of National Socialism.

His story is a fascinating one. He was first taught music by his uncle, a violinist and music historian who ran a local music school. After graduating from his local school, he attended the Musikhochschule in Berlin, where he was introduced to the music of India, which was at that time largely unknown in Europe. The music sounded strange to him, but he was curious to learn more about it. While still in his early twenties he was an assistant to the famed conductor Bruno Walter, and some of his early compositions began to get some recognition from performances in Prague, Vienna, and Berlin. In 1927 he enrolled in the German University in Prague. He rented a room from Franz Kafka’s mother and eventually married one of Kafka’s nieces. While a student in Berlin, Kaufmann met and befriended an amateur violinist named Albert Einstein, whom he would accompany on the piano. The two remained friends until Einstein’s death. But with the rising threat of anti-Semitism in Europe, Kaufmann decided to get an Indian visa. He wound up staying there for 12 years. In 1946 he moved to Canada, then on to the United States in 1956, where he taught at the Indiana University School of Music for the remainder of his career.

Walter Kaufmann
The ARC Ensemble consists of senior faculty from the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School in Toronto, Canada. They have made a specialty of recovering and recording music that has been suppressed and marginalized under the 20th century’s repressive political regimes, releasing a series of recordings under the heading of “Music in Exile” on the Chandos label, this being the fourth (the others featuring music by composers Paul Ben-Haim, Jerzy Fitelberg, and Szymon Laks).

The program opens with Kaufmann’s String Quartet No. 11, which consists of four movements. The listener can sense a non-Western undertone to the music, even though it also sounds clearly European in style. After the first movement comes to a close with an accelerando, the second movement evokes a softer, more plaintive mood, with a brief march-like interlude before coming to a quiet ending. The third movement opens energetically, with the music shifting to a more non-Western feeling again, with melodic figures running up and down with invigorating energy. The finale opens briskly, played with decisive flair. There is a strong rhythmic underpinning to this music, a driving pulse that can be felt as well as heard, winding down toward the end but then ending with a final flourish.

Next up is the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, which opens quietly with the piano in the lead, the violin then joining in with a yearning melody. As the movement continues, there is an element of Dvorak-like sound (Dvorak was also Czech, of course), ending with a frantic dash to the finish. The second movement is more somber, becoming tender and touching, a subdued and quiet flame that dims to a peaceful, subdued ending. The final movement, by contrast, opens with a start and sustains an energetic, dancelike motion culminating in an exuberant ending.

ARC Ensemble
The centerpiece of the album is Kaufmann’s String Quartet No. 7, which provides ample evidence that the composer truly had a knack and a feel for quartet writing. The movements display a variety of moods, from the opening movement with its energetic opening and oft-repeated four-note theme, the quieter but extremely beautiful second movement, the fleet third movement, the yearning fourth movement, all the way through to the finale, its whirling, dancing, up-tempo energy interwoven with a more stately second theme. This is truly an impressive string quartet.

The next piece, his Sonatina No. 12 for Violin and Piano, is presented here in an arrangement for clarinet and piano. The three short movements include the gently melodic first movement, a spritely and perky second movement, and a final movement that is softer in tone, exuding an atmosphere of happiness and contentment. (Oh, I’m a fool for a clarinet…)

Closing out the program is the one-movement Septet for Three Violins, Viola, Two Cellos, and Piano. Over its nearly 15-minute length it changes moods and sonorities, but tends for the most part to maintain a consistent pulse. There are moments of dance, movements of mystery, moments of reflection, and moments of song before the piece finally fades into peaceful silence as the program ends.

The sound quality on this recording is exemplary. Especially noteworthy is the sonic soundstage, which is stable and sized right, with no huge violins or other such anomalies such as sometimes emerge on recordings of chamber music. The liner notes present a wealth of information about Kaufmann, including a number of photographs of the composer at various stages in his life. With more than 77 minutes of music that has never been recorded before, this recording presents a compelling case that the music of Walter Kaufmann deserves to be heard. What other musical delights might be hidden away in the Kaufmann archives?  


To listen to a brief excerpt from this recording, click below:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa