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Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Works for violin and piano: Volume 2

Sonata No.2 in A Op.78 (1858) [37.57]
Six morceaux Op.85 (1859) [20.04]
Duo on motifs from Wagner’s Lohengrin Op.63 No.3 (1853) [9.08]
Ingolf Turban (violin)
Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
recorded in the Kammermusik Studio, SWR, Stuttgart, Germany on 2-4 July 2001
CPO 999 768-2 [67.09]

Raff was an in-between composer. Although born a Swiss, he is considered a German, whereas in terms of style, he might be described as a Classical-Romantic. He was strongly influenced by the music of Mendelssohn and Liszt, the former recommended the publication of early piano pieces. Liszt also acted for Raff in a practical manner, for, as a musical patron, he arranged posts for him first in Cologne and Stuttgart, and then summoned him to Weimar to serve as his assistant-cum-secretary for six years from 1850. From 1877 he was Director of the Hoch Conservatoire in Frankfurt, where he composed and taught (MacDowell being among his pupils). His output was considerable with over two hundred published works, among them eleven symphonies, vast amounts of piano music, and a considerable number of chamber works. Much of the weakness in his music lies at the very heart of this schizophrenic attempt to fuse such dissimilar styles, and it tends to fall between two stools, simply sinking into eclecticism. But it is all tuneful and skilfully crafted.

The music on this second record in the series of Raff’s works for violin and piano is characteristic of his post-Weimar period, when he was beginning to establish a certain independence from Liszt. The substantial sonata (at 38 minutes) contains a good deal of lyrically shaped musical ideas in its first two movements, a moderately paced scherzo underlines its dance-like character, but it’s the finale which fails to sustain interest and runs out of steam. The six pieces are nicely varied, beginning with a swashbuckling march, followed by a charming pastoral and gently pretty (and ultimately Raff’s most familiar work) cavatina, a swift scherzino, a moving canzona and an infectious Tarantella to conclude. As one might expect, it is the famous Bridal Chorus which dominates the paraphrase on Wagner’s Lohengrin, which Liszt premiered while Raff was in Weimar and the composer in exile at Triebschen, (the other two works which make up Op.63 draw upon Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser).

If any of Raff’s music gets heard, it’s generally a couple of symphonies (Im Walde and Lenore, Nos. 3 and 5 respectively). Here the duo of Turban and Nemtsov continue with CPO’s complete series of music for violin and piano (five volumes are planned, Volume 1 CPO 999 767-2 has the first sonata plus fillers, which include the paraphrase of music from Tannhäuser), with manifest enthusiasm (‘warmth and animation’ demanded in the sonata’s first movement) for the task in hand. Their performances eloquently argue the case for a revival in the fortunes of Raff’s music, both artists having the poetic imagination (successfully steering away from any hint of sentimentality) and the technical prowess to meet the task in hand.

Christopher Fifield

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