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Joachim RAFF
Piano Trios - No. 1 in C minor, Op. 102; No. 4 in D, Op. 158.
Trio Opus 8
(Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano).
Recorded January 11th-12th, 1999 in the Chamber Music Studio of South West German Radio. [DDD]
CPO 999 616-2 [61.12]
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Matthias Wiegandt's copious insert notes to this disc make an ideal introduction to the life and works of this interesting composer. Refreshingly, Wiegandt's tone is realistic rather than evangelical, so that balanced and honest statements take the place of their less believable counterparts.

Until the mole-like excavations of the recording industry laid him in their sights, Raff was best known for his Cavatina. There is still plenty to discover, including operas, symphonies and chamber music (eight string quartets, five violin sonatas, etc). This includes the two piano trios on this disc, of course (two out of the four he composed: as this is labelled Volume 1, one can only assume that the middle two trios are forthcoming).

Mendelssohn thought quite highly of Raff's early works. Traces of Mendelssohnian fleetness-of-foot do indeed appear in both Scherzos, fully in keeping with Raff's gentle, flowing form of Romanticism. Unfortunately Trio Opus 8 are not quite the match of their feather-like agility, preferring to be too earnest in approach (and therefore not spirited enough).

Of his piano trios, No. 1 in C minor (1861) has attained the most respect. It contains a notational curiosity, beginning in longer note values and accelerating through the shorter ones, making a slow introduction explicit on the page. The third, slow movement elicits the best playing from this young group, who then rise to the grand gestures of the opening of the finale (which do appear, it must be admitted, to come out of the blue).

It is the slow movement of the fourth trio (1870) which again provides the highlight: this time the gentle lyricism positively glows. The pianist, Michael Hauber, shows himself very responsive to Raff's world, particularly in the rippling opening. The finale (unfortunately, if inevitably, the last track on the disc) seems to represent a dip in Raff's invention. Although not perhaps the best way to conclude, it does buck up towards the end.

Well worth hearing, in performances which at their best do Raff a great service. To further sales of the more obscure parts of their catalogue, CPO offer some of their titles at medium price: this is one of them.

Colin Clarke

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