Kaufmann: Orchestral Works

Elisaveta Blumina, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorcheter Berlin conducted by David Robert Coleman

CPO 555 631-2

“Who the devil is Walter Kaufmann?” Opens an article in the liner notes of this release by the ever adventurous CPO label. In this case, the question is apposite, considering there has only ever been one recording of Kaufmann’s works other than this one (Chandos released his string quartets 7, 11 and other chamber works in 2020). As the numbers suggest, Kaufmann was a prolific composer with a most unusual career trajectory and life story. Kaufmann was born in Austro-Hungary in 1907. He fled the country with his family when the Nazis came to power (tragically, his father died on the journey) and ultimately settled in India. Here, he worked at All India Radio (AIR) in Mumbai and set about melding musical cultures; simultaneously seeking to introduce western orchestral music to Mumbai and Indian classical methods to western audiences. He is noted for composing the jingle for AIR, where he was a contemporary of British emigre John Foulds, who worked in New Delhi (and was responsible for banning the harmonium from radio shows, for reasons that are an utter mystery to this writer). Kaufmann also travelled to the UK, where he penned a number of Light Music works for British radio, but travelled back to India after a brief time, later settling in Indiana in the US.

The works on this disc are, for the most part, larger scale works, but they all display remarkable lightness of touch (the later quartets on the other release have considerably more turbulent music than anything found here), and so should appeal to a Light Music lover. The Piano Concerto that opens the disc is an exuberant work, itself an adaptation of an earlier work for piano and strings. Firmly rooted in the Western classical tradition, it boasts virtuosic writing for the solo instrument, handled with entirely appropriate lightness of touch by pianist Elisaveta Blumina, where required, but her handling of the really “big tunes” will soon have you swooning in Rachmaninovian rapture. The Third Symphony opens with the most Western of musical gestures (calling to mind Mozart or Haydn), but immediately moves into Indian classical music modes. Naturally, Kaufmann employs western adaptations of these modes, so the music avoids microtonality (of which John Foulds made more extensive use), though there are pitch slides, but the result is a thrilling and most unusual work. The Indian Symphony that follows hints more at Kaufmann’s work scoring early Bollywood films (far from the pop influenced soundtracks you’re more likely to find today). Initially, I must confess to trepidation heading into these works, half expecting a series of hackneyed cliches, but was most pleasantly surprised to discover the opposite this is a genuine attempt at introducing Indian classical approaches to Western Orchestral traditions in a way that is wholly approachable to an audience: a real gesture of musical acceptance and embrace of other cultures. That said, The Indian Symphony might actually have some listeners thinking more of American classical music’s evocations of Native American modes than might immediately make one think of Mumbai. However, the colours of Indian classical music do soon shine through. The only thing missing, to my ear, was a more exciting rhythmic cadence, or tala to the final movement, but it is an exciting and fun finale nevertheless. In all three of these works, the orchestra plays with a wonderful energy, sure to leave the listener elated.

The Indian Miniatures that close the disc are the most obvious attempt to marry authentic Indian musical styles to something we might consider Light Music and could easily serve as an illustration of the difference between Ketélbey’s evocations of exotic places (many of which he did not visit) and a “insider perspective”. These would fit perfectly in a Light Music concert in fact and I would be confident they would go down well. Rainer Wolter’s gorgeous violin solo at the beginning of the second movement here is a real highlight of the recording, as is the flute solo heard later in the same movement.

The commitment to the music by the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin under the baton of David Robert Coleman is absolutely assured. CPO’s (as always) superb recording quality added to the lively performances capture this colourful and joyous music absolutely perfectly and, so it sounds, had great fun doing it! DA

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