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Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Violin Sonatas Volume 1

Violin Sonata No.1 Op.73 in E minor (1853-54) [30.41]
Violin Sonata No.3 in D major Op.128 (1865) [25.45]
Chromatic Violin Sonata No.4 Op.129 [14.53]
Ariadne Daskalakis (violin)
Roglit Ishay (piano)
No Recording details
TUDOR 7122 [71.37]


I could be wrong but I can find no evidence that any of Raff’s five violin sonatas were recorded before the advent of CDs. For violin fanciers Raff meant morceaux and beyond the Cavatina was a vista of unplayed folios. It’s useful therefore to consider Tudor’s pioneering work in the Raff discography and to reflect that they have brought us violin concertos, quartets and cello concertos amongst other rare things. Here we have three of the violin sonatas, to join the Op.99 sonata on Tudor 7109.

He certainly had a gift for elegant lyricism, forged from a Schumannesque fire, combined with more-than-requisite technical assurance. The E minor of 1853-54 is a solidly Romantic work adhering to prerequisites of form and formal sentiment. What it lacks is true distinction, though one can admire the witty scherzo with its cloudy moments of wistfulness. The slow movement is marked Nicht zu langsam and that’s true enough; rich in tracery and reverie but for much of its length stubbornly superficial and aloof. In the finale we confront a recurring problem; a disparate and unresolved attitude toward direction and at eight minutes in length it does ramble, notwithstanding the piano’s fugal passage.

The Fourth in G minor is the so-called Chromatic Sonata, a one movement, multi-sectioned concertante piece which is altogether more harmonically diverting than its earlier disc mate. Songful for the violin and powerfully written for the piano; the ingredients make for engaging listening, even if the debts to the High Romantics of the German school are avoidable and even if, in the end, thematic memorability proves over-stated.

The Third Sonata is, like the First, another big four-movement work. It’s written in standard sonata form and fuses intimacy with some strenuous passagework. Raff is at his finest in the trio where his trademark lyrical muse is at its most developed – which is useful because his slow movement is once again rather gestural and sporting a rather self-conscious sense of dramatic projection. He fails to resolve the classic finale dilemma, settling instead for a jovial sense of high spirits; some strongly projected contrasts might have worked better.

The recording level and balance are just and throughout both Daskalakis and Ishay prove devoted servants. Adept though they are I can imagine that a greater sense of tonal involvement could have turned corners with greater passion and incision. Sometimes things are a touch too well mannered and there was certainly some room for the kind of expressive gestures that might have given these works a greater sense of cavalier freedom. Too much sugar can kill a Cavatina but a little sweetener here wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Jonathan Woolf

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