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Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Cello Concertos

Cello Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.193 (1874) [23.09]
Cello Concerto No.2 in G major Op. posthumous (1876) [29.54]
Begegnung Phantasiestücke for cello and piano Op.86 No.1 (1854) [7.23]+
Duo for cello and piano in A major Op.59 (1848 revised 1852) [15.35]+
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
Robert Kulek (piano)+
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Hans Stadlmair
No recording details
TUDOR 7121 [76.26]

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Raff’s cello concertos are amongst his less well known big works. Neither is programmatic in the way his symphonies were and both adhere strongly to accepted models. They suffered a conflicting history. The first was commissioned and first performed by Friedrich Grützmacher, one of the leading cellists of the time, whilst the second was written for David Popper, though Popper never performed it, there was no dedication and the concerto had to wait until 1997 for its premiere.

Raff pitches in his soloist from the first in his D minor concerto. There’s a certain brilliant declamation to the working out, and the way in which Raff leads from the first movement coda to the Larghetto is finely conceived, albeit strongly modelled on Mendelssohn and Schumann. Fortunately Müller-Schott plays with considerable lyric absorption and throws off the virtuosic challenges of the finale with aplomb. It’s a shame that Raff succumbed to dutifulness here and couldn’t summon up some of the sense of fantasy that informs his purely symphonic work; the passagework sounds earthbound and a sense of routine is apparent throughout.

The second concerto, the one with the chequered history, once more reprises the Romantic trajectory of the first – the soloist plunges in without an opening orchestral introduction. Raff writes quite excitingly for the horns – there’s something heroic sounding to the writing that braces one for a verdant and exciting work to come. That expectation is really only half met. The pensive lyricism hints at undercurrents that the Andante rather deflates. It’s a pleasurable movement but lightweight, with attractive Schumannesque orchestration but it tends to be decorative and supportive of the solo line and hence rather static.

To fill up the disc we have some attractive smaller pieces for cello and piano. Begegnung (Meeting) was written in Weimar when Raff was Liszt’s assistant. Playful pizzicatos lace this salon-friendly concoction but there’s more meat in the Duo. This is an artful, accomplished piece of duo writing – and here pizzicati are put to structural rather than decorative effect and the lyricism is therefore that much more convincing. It’s a worthy addition to the cello-piano duo repertoire and only its length – quarter of an hour – might militate against it in concert. On disc that’s not a problem.

Müller-Schott is the lynchpin of the programme and he has the measure of Raff’s sometimes wayward and ill-focused muse. I like the way he brings some expressive, old-fashioned devices to bear to keep the music alive, to bring warmth to it. A problem however is the recording. The Bamberg is a good orchestra enjoying a measure of fame at the moment under Jonathan Nott – though here well conducted by Hans Stadlmair - but it’s been rather poorly served here. The orchestral sound picture is distant and unfocused and tuttis don’t really register. That will be a consideration of course but the repertoire is rare and the performances as such are good.

Jonathan Woolf

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