Picture credit: CPO
Lebrecht's Album of the Week

An array of civilised music

Walter Kaufmann: 3rd piano concerto, 3rd symphony &c. (CPO)

If you’ve never heard of the composer Walter Kaufmann, you are not alone. A Czech Jew in Hitler’s Germany, Kaufmann was hired as a composer by an Indian friend who was founding a film company in Bombay. He was soon promoted to head of music at All India Radio, co-founded (with Meli Mehta) Bombay’s Chamber Music Society and lectured at the University. 

As political winds shifted, he migrated in 1946 to London, where he composed for Arthur Rank Films. He moved on again to become the first music director in Winnipeg, Canada, and again in 1957 to teach at Bloomington, Indiana, where he died in 1984. Now you see why you’ve never heard of him? None of his music was published.

You’re wondering what it’s like. Surprisingly engaging. These premier recordings by the Berlin radio symphony orchestra, conducted by David Robert Coleman, pullulate with frustrated energies and flamboyant influences. The concerto (soloist Elisaveta Blumina) owes quite a lot to Krenek, Stravinsky and Gershwin — which is to say, not a dull moment. 

The 3rd symphony of 1936 and an Indian Symphony of 1943 fluctuate from Haydn sonata-form to Bollywood movie matinees, never lacking charm and instrumental quirks. Six Indian Miniatures (1965) are musical picture postcards, done with tact and affection. 

A friend of Albert Einstein, conducting assistant to Bruno Walter and husband of Franz Kafka’s niece, Kaufmann was no talentless hack. He once gave lessons to a boy called Zubin Mehta. If his travels had taken a different turn, he might have wound up winning Oscars. As it is, we are left with an array of civilised music that sits easily on the ear for an hour, never fully arresting the head or the heart. Listen: you won’t regret it.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover