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Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Sonata for violin and piano in E minor No.1 Op.73 (1853/4) [30.41]
Chromatic Sonata for violin and piano in G minor No.4 Op.129 (1866) [14.53]
Sonata for violin and piano in D major No.3 Op.128 (1865) [25.45]
Ariadne Daskalakis (violin)
Roglit Ishay (piano)
rec. Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich, Germany, 27-28, 30 January 2003. DDD
TUDOR 7122 [71.37]

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Raff was an in-between composer. Although born 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: 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. If any of Raff’s music gets heard, it’s generally a couple of symphonies: Im Walde and Lenore, Nos. 3 and 5 respectively. Much of the weakness in his music lies at the very heart of this schizophrenic attempt to fuse two such dissimilar styles (Mendelssohn and Liszt). It tends to fall between two stools, simply sinking into eclecticism, nevertheless it is all tuneful and skilfully crafted.

This disc is nothing short of head-to-head rivalry between Ingolf Turban and Jascha Netsov on CPO and here Ariadne Daskalakis and Roglit Ishay on Tudor. Although there is plenty of Raff’s vast output which needs to be recorded, it’s good to see a healthy competitive supply of Raff’s music from two German labels. Tudor have now produced no less than seventeen discs (including eleven symphonies recorded by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Hans Stadlmair), string quartets, violin concertos, piano concertos and one of pieces for violin and piano. According to the box spine of the one under review, this is Volume 1 of the violin sonatas with the second due out later this year, presumably consisting of Nos. 2 and 5. Here we have three of the five all of which were written mid-way through the composer’s life, over the fifteen-year period between 1853 and 1868, and all edited by the violinist Ferdinand David of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto fame. Centrally sandwiched between two charming sonatas Opp. 73 and 128, and therefore slightly out of chronological order, lies the compactly through-composed Chromatic Sonata Op.129, written in response to the sudden death by a stroke of his father-in-law in Raff’s own home in August 1866. This turbulent music may well have been the product of turbulent times, Prussia and Denmark had fought a war in 1864, the Austro-Prussian War was about to erupt, and the composer was much affected by both as well as by the loss of his relative. There’s a loosely argued booklet note claiming that it may also have been a prototype for his first concerto for the violin, the sonata having a symphonic outline and orchestral colours filling the piano writing. It is a concentrated work, reminiscent of Spohr’s 8th concerto Gesangszene, and, with its frequent use of recitativo style, clearly influenced by the Sturm und Drang Romanticism prevalent in the mid-19th century. The earlier first sonata Op.73 was dedicated to Ferdinand Laub who, accompanied by Hans von Bülow, played it in Berlin after its premiere in Weimar. This was high quality acknowledgement by two such eminent artists, and did Raff’s reputation a power of good.

Both American violinist Ariadne Daskalakis and Israeli pianist Roglit Ishay give intensely taut performances of all three works, and are clearly totally unfazed by any technical hurdles. Ms Daskalakis responds to the music’s sense of drama and, elsewhere, its lyricism. She has a full-toned sound and phrases with warmth and subtlety, while Ms Roglit is more than a sympathetic accompanist. There is some formidable piano writing here to which she responds with admirable confidence, while sound engineer Peter Urban has struck a perfect balance between the two performers in the recording studio at Bavarian Radio. Raff’s music has been accused on occasion of succumbing to either triviality or vulgarity, at times even both. No sign of any such failings on this enjoyable disc, which impresses to the last chord.

Christopher Fifield

see also review by Jonathan Woolf




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