Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Ode an den Frühling – Konzertstuck for Piano and Orchestra Op.76 (1857) [18:05] ¹

Piano Concerto Op.185 (1873) [35:55] ²
Peter Aronsky (piano)
Radio Symphony Orchestral Basel/Jost Meier ¹
Radio Symphony Orchestral Basel/Matthias Bamert ²
rec. September 1994 (Ode) and June 1982 (Concerto) Swiss Radio DRS, Studio Basel
TUDOR 7035 [54:13]
This is not a new disc but like the recent recording of his quartets, which I reviewed recently, it brings some Raff works to the spotlight that might otherwise rest untended.
The one movement Ode is a compact affair written in 1857. It’s deliciously verdant, with finely and characteristically eventful scoring. The first violin figure with which it begins is captivating in its freshness. The piano slides in quietly, even speculatively, without fuss certainly. It is however full of lyrical sentiment, responding to the ensuing solo cello lied with dapple and filigree. Raff assuredly mines some Lisztian rhetoric from time to time but he is always affable, balancing the urge for virtuosity with Mendelssohnian warmth. His wind melodies are pleasing, and there’s a proud and strong conclusion. Michael Ponti recorded this with the Westphalian Symphony and Richard Kapp on Vox, a performance I’ve yet to hear, but this more up-to-date effort sees Peter Aronsky and Jost Meier collaborating with verve and sensitivity.
It’s a touch surprising that Raff wrote only one full-scale concerto for the piano. Of the two works in this disc the Piano Concerto of 1873 should be the more imposing. For one thing it’s the product of his maturity, and for another it’s twice as long as the Ode. It was premiered by no less a figure than von Bülow with the composer himself conducting, and was apparently extremely popular. The piano pitches straight in, but soon embraces warm filigree and a Chopinesque ethos. The writing for the piano is fluent, a touch decorative. The orchestration however is, to my ears, bafflingly modest. The Lisztian charge in the opening movement, with its cascading piano, is certainly arresting, and the virtuosic flourishes to end the movement are undeniably effective. But the roulades of the second movement are dainty and pretty and there’s not overmuch textual interplay between piano and orchestra; the Field-Chopin influence is strong but without quite their purposeful quality. The skittish Mendelssohnisms of the finale bring the Concerto to an enjoyable conclusion.
Of the two though, the Ode is the more attractive work. It’s better integrated and has better melodies, and is more of a whole. Aronsky is a fine guide, and he has been accorded good collaborators and a recording to match. Don’t however start your quest for the composer here: this is for the more seasoned Raff traveller.
Jonathan Woolf
This is for the more seasoned Raff traveller