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Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Violin Concerto No.1 in B minor Op.161 (1870-71) [23.35]
Violin Concerto No.2 in A minor Op.206 (1877) [32.54]
Cavatina for violin and orchestra Op.85 No.3 (1859) orchestrated Singer 1874 [4.48]
Ungarischer for violin and orchestra Op.203 (1876) orchestrated Raff 1877 [8.21]
Michaela Paetsch Neftel (violin)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Hans Stadlmair
Recorded in Bamberg, May 1999
TUDOR 7086 [70.07]

You’d expect the composer of the celebrated Cavatina to have something of an affinity with the violin and it’s certainly true that his concertos for that instrument have more personality and dash than those he wrote for cello. The First dates from 1870-71 and was re-worked by its dedicatee, the distinguished figure of August Wilhelmj. Reading Tudor’s notes and actually listening to the music rather brought me up short. I thought I was listening to the wrong concerto. The first, said to be rather Mendelssohnian, sounds to me a much more robust affair; and the second, said to be a product of Raff’s Lisztian impressions, strikes me as altogether a more Mendelssohn-and-Spohr affair. Still, given that my responses may be off the mark, I should say that the First takes in a poetic patina in the first movement, alternating vigorous tutti assertion and a welcome withdrawal as a means of producing tension. The slow movement is a becalmed one, almost an andantino in fact both in tempo and in mood but the finale is a bold, rather martial affair. I enjoyed its operatic projection; not at all distinctive, really, but a violin scena of fine construction.

The later concerto, the one I find Mendelssohnian, was written for Sarasate who backed off from performing it. Sarasate was notorious for artistic misjudgements of this sort but here he may have had a point – if all he was looking for were pyrotechnics and plumage. As ever with Raff the soloist pitches in from almost the first bars and the passagework is certainly slightly reminiscent of Mendelssohn, the more showy technical aspects perhaps also recalling Spohr. Warmth suffuses the slow movement – a song without words in effect with a ripe orchestral cushion to support the soloist, the adroit American born Michaela Paetsch Neftel. The finale causes some intonational problems – it takes the soloist ungratefully high, but also has a fulsome rather martial air as well.

He concertos are supplanted by the Ungarischer, which as its name suggests is a little slice of Hungariana, orchestrated by Raff in 1877, and by the Cavatina where Neftel uses far too much vibrato and over-emotes.

I’d place the violin concertos above those for the cello in respect of orchestral incident and polish – they’re rich and enjoyable works, derivative to an extent, and maybe not especially memorable thematically. Which doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, except to add that they’re rarely found on disc, that these performances are adept and attractive, well recorded and offer an entertaining seventy-minutes’ worth of music-making.

Jonathan Woolf



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