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Robin de RAAF (b. 1968)
Unisono (2002/4)a [18:41]
Piano Concerto (2001/2)b [19:49]
Concerto for Orchestra (1999/2002)c [18:17]
Ralph van Raat (piano)b; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Ed Spanjaarda, George Benjaminc;
Radio Chamber Orchestra/Peter Eötvösb
rec. live AVRO, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, December 2004 (Unisono) and February 2003 (Concerto for Orchestra); and NPS, Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht, December 2004 (Piano Concerto)
ETCETERA KTC 1309  [57:09]


First of all, a few biographical facts about the composer, because the insert notes do not tell us anything about him. Born in 1968, he studied with Geert van Keulen and Theo Loevendie at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He was later invited to work as George Benjamin’s only composition student at the Royal College of Music where he also studied with Julian Anderson. Pierre Boulez’s appreciation of De Raaf’s early string quartet Athomus (1993) also helped put the composer’s name onto the map of contemporary music. The composer admits his love for Alban Berg’s music, and also refers to Bartók and Stravinsky, which may give some indications as to his stylistic inclinations, although it must be stressed straightaway that his music is free from any all-too-obvious imitation. De Raaf’s musical background nevertheless left its mark on the music, which certainly owes much to George Benjamin’s example. That said, the connection with Benjamin must not be overemphasised, because De Raaf obviously knows what he wants to do and how to achieve his aims in the best possible way. The insert notes go into some detail about De Raaf’s working methods, if such there really are; but the music, as heard here, is much more eloquent than any well-meaning exegesis. As already mentioned, and considering the composer’s musical training, De Raaf’s music clearly belongs to its time and place, and sounds decidedly contemporary. It is nevertheless very accessible and strongly communicative, as the applause at the end of each of these performances testifies. He obviously loves the orchestra, and has a fine ear for arresting sonorities, as the highly effective scoring of Unisono and of the Concerto for Orchestra amply shows.

The three works recorded here were all written at about the same time. The seemingly long gestation of the Concerto for Orchestra, begun in 1999 and completed in 2002, is due to the commissioning of the Piano Concerto, composed between 2001 and 2002. The Piano Concerto is scored for chamber orchestra and is laid-out in two movements, although the insert notes mention “five sections modelled on Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, in which each section starts with the same musical gesture, and yet develops every time in a different way”. I must say that this does not sound obvious at all when listening to the piece, which – to my mind – is not really important. The most striking characteristics of the piece are the almost effortless way in which the music unfolds and the remarkably telling use of smaller orchestral forces.

The Concerto for Orchestra is a substantial work in three movements roughly laid-out in the fairly traditional fast-slow-fast pattern, each movement falling into three subsections. As might be expected, it is a brilliant showcase for orchestra in which the composer gives free rein to his orchestral mastery, although everything is strictly held under control leaving nothing to improvisation. The first movement opens with an oblique allusion to the opening of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, but the music soon unfolds independently of Stravinsky’s work, and displays considerable energy and much imaginative orchestral writing. There are some calmer sections offsetting the energy of much of the music in this movement. The first movement’s peroration leads straight into the second, slow movement and an atmospheric nocturne. It, too, leads straight into the final movement. The music seems at first to prolong the material heard at the end of the second movement, but it soon becomes more nervous and impetuous; the whole work is capped by a rather subdued coda. This is an impressive achievement, and the music is given an excellent performance conducted by De Raaf’s mentor George Benjamin.

Unisono undoubtedly shares many common features with the Concerto for Orchestra, not least its orchestral virtuosity. The piece is roughly structured as an arch-form opening with a single tone. The music then becomes considerably more complex before ending in much the same way as it began.

I had never heard De Raaf’s music before receiving this disc, but I now look forward to hearing more of it soon. This is music that speaks for itself, notwithstanding its formal and organisational complexity. This release is a fine introduction to this still young composer’s sound-world. I only wish that the playing time were more generous.

Hubert Culot







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