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Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Works for violin and piano Vol. 4
Fourth Grand Sonata (Chromatic Sonata in one movement) Op.129 (1866) [16:18]
Sonatillen Op.99 Nos 1-3 and 9-10 [18:05]
Fifth Grand Sonata Op.145 (1868) [29:34]
Ingolf Turban (violin)
Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
rec. Kammermusikstudio des SWR, Stuttgart, June 2006 
CPO 777 006-2 [64:18]

We’ve arrived at volume four in the survey of Raff’s complete music for violin and piano (see below for links to previous volumes). This gives us the Fourth and Fifth of the Grand Sonatas and some of the Sonatillen in performances of commitment and assurance by Turban and Nemtsov, recorded in June 2006 in Stuttgart.
The most imposing and impressive of the works is programmed first, the sixteen minute, one-movement Grand Sonata written in 1866. Its formidable recitative-like opening foretells great things and whilst they’re not entirely met one does admire Raff for his blending of quasi-dramatic and romantic leanings in the work. This convulsively, often irresistibly lyrical style can, as we know, sometimes leech into salon sentiment but not here; or at least not too often. Written in strict sonata form it was dedicated to Vieuxtemps and there is much in it to interest a virtuoso who can marry dynamism with pathos. There are hints of Tannhäuser here, cryptic little semi-quotations, and a piano part full of ardour and spirit and the lure of mid century expression. It’s a powerful, exciting work, and played with just the right spirit by this experienced duo.
The Fifth Sonata followed two years later. It’s nearly twice as big as the earlier work but it’s not twice as good. A certain amount of conventionality seems to have descended on the hard working Raff in 1868. So whilst the main theme of the first movement is auspiciously noble and commanding and whilst there’s sturm und drang in the slow movement the sonata as a whole never quite measures up to the sum of its parts. The urgency of that Andante – full of tremolandi and perturbed spirit – sees the last high vantage point; from then on the sonata falls away progressively into note spinning. A pity as the first two movements have their moments; the last two are merely workmanlike.
Programmed in between the sonatas are the Op.99 Sonatillen. These gentle, classical pieces were originally written for the piano and then arranged by Raff for violin and piano. The odd title means that each piece stands alone but as the first three show they can form a unified sonata without too much embarrassment. The Larghetto is a rather lovely lied, warm and generous, and something at which Raff was a master. The “finale” to this de facto sonata is a tarantella and it’s full of vivacity. No.9 is a scherzo that has bathed in Schubertian waters and has perhaps also taken heed of the scherzo of Beethoven’s Op.24 violin sonata.
Once again the Turban-Nemtsov duo proves admirably accomplished in these miniatures. The recording is warm, sympathetic and attractive, the works themselves inconsistent. At their best though, in the shape of the Fourth Sonata, they show Raff in the best light possible.
Jonathan Woolf

Reviews of previous releasses in this series
Volume 1 - 999 767-2
Volume 2 - 999 768-2
Volume 3 - 999 769-2


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