KAROL RATHAUS – Modern/Contemporary? – SQs 3, 4 and 5

German-Austrian composer Karol Rathaus [1895-1954] wrote eight string quartets. Quartets 3, 4 and 5 are currently available. He is probably the most gentle Modern/Contemporary composer I have reviewed, although I guess you could argue Morton Feldman. They are both very different. I’m still trying to work out this Modern or Contemporary topic. The year 2000 changed everything! I’ve now elected to forget about Contemporary and will run with degrees of Modernism. This topic deserves its own post.

The third quartet contains five movements. The first begins with a plaintive, introspective melody, and a wonderful feeling; no anger here. I love the way the composer probes at the music with the melody. Nearing the conclusion, the music deepens a little. The second movement, marked sarabande, continues in the same emotional space, perhaps a little more peaceful than the previous movement. An up tempo movement follows, again with a very gentle sense of agitation. The solo cello leads into a stately, appealing section before the tempo quickens to conclude the movement. The short, slow fourth movement again occupies the emotional space that I crave. It is very understated, with an eerie sound. The final movement, while ultimately abstract, is never particularly challenging. The first violin is very busy and constantly plays games with the ensemble.

The fourth quartet has three movements. It opens with a flourish but continues in the same vein as the previous piece. This movement is very rhythmic, but there is no violence or anger here. Towards the end it breaks into a solo cello with sparse accompaniment. Quite soothing really; it belies its marking of allegro energico which I take to mean energised. The next movement is slow, perhaps a little harsher than the preceding movements. I like the soundscape it evokes; a sense of the desolate. The last movement is a bustling affair, almost sprightly, which is atonal, but only with a minimum use of dissonance.

The fifth quartet also contains three movements. The first continues with some of the previous moods. It has a measured sense of Modernism about it. However, it is a little confronting. The same could be said of the second movement, it just has a bit more of an edge to it. The final, short movement is busy, and again, a little confronting.

These works confuse me. They are definitely atonal with a degree of Modernism. The Modernist traits of anger, chaos, agitation and aggression are not to be found here, except in a measured manner. There are some exquisite moments here. The slow passages I find particularly attractive, very introspective.

The disc I have reviewed is by the Amar Corde quartet. Not sure of the label, but it is freely available on Amazon US and UK.

Rathaus is available neither on Spotify nor youtube.

Listenability: Let’s call it tempered Modernism– fabulous just for the quiet movements.




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