Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Piano Works - Vol. 3
Album Lyrique, op.17 (1849-?c.1873) [46:52]
Cinq Eglogues, op.105 (1861) [18:24]
Impromptu-Valse, op.94 (1860) [4:15]
Fantaisie-Polonaise in A minor, op.106 (1861) [7:02]
Tra Nguyen (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, Wales, 29-30 November 2011. DDD
GRAND PIANO GP634 [76:33] 

This is the last volume of Grand Piano's three-CD survey of German-Swiss composer Joachim Raff's piano music. The player-advocate for the series has been British-Vietnamese pianist, Tra Nguyen. Both the first (GP602, review) and second (GP612, review) came out earlier in the year to well-deserved acclaim.
Raff wrote a massive amount of piano music, so this is a long way from being a 'complete works' series. It has at least provided a taster of the considerable genius of a composer haunted by intemperate critics prejudiced by his prolific writing and by the many potboilers and pretty salon pieces he wrote to earn a living.
Volume 1 was in fact Nguyen's debut solo recording - for details of her recordings in a chamber and concertante capacity, see either of the reviews above. Her belief in Raff's music is further evidenced by the fact that she regularly performs his music - her 2012 calendar reveals six different recitals in England, all featuring pieces by Raff. In April at Pushkin House in London she gave a recital combined with a talk on his music.
She opens this final recital with the ostensibly massive Album Lyrique, although in fact Raff divided the work into five distinct volumes - three outstandingly lyrical Rêveries (pace the notes, not "decidedly sad"), a neo-Schumannesque Romance coupled with a Griegian Ballade, two gorgeously seductive Nocturnes, a lively, serious Scherzo and finally a powerful Introduction and Fugue. This was actually Raff's third op.17: the first, Three Character Pieces from 1844, he destroyed after showing them to Liszt!; the second was the original Album Lyrique, written in 1845. After its publication the following year, Raff soon rewrote what were ten pieces in four volumes to arrive at the present set, for some reason not published until the 1870s. At any rate, the Album Lyrique is a superlative work whose cause other pianists must now surely take up.
Next come the Five Eclogues of 1861, an exquisitely fragranced work of musical passion and reminiscence dedicated to 'Doris', his wife of a couple of years. Two shortish, hyphenated pieces mark the end of Nguyen's fabulous survey. The Fantaisie-Impromptu was Raff's follow-up to the Eglogues, and sounds very much like a tribute to Chopin - although the Joachim Raff Society's Mark Thomas in his notes hears something quite different: "shows little trace of the Polish master's influence". The equally dazzling Impromptu-Valse op.94 dates from the previous year, and once again the influence of Chopin, though less overt here, still seems rather self-evident.
According to Grand Piano, these are all premiere recordings, and with almost 80 minutes of music, this must be considered a bargain for pianophiles even at full price. Its value is enhanced all the more by another top-class performance by Nguyen, her technical prowess augmented once again by an intuitive sense of expression and phrasing that brings this magical music to life.
As in previous volumes, sound quality is very good. Ditto Thomas's English-German booklet notes of the invaluable. All releases so far on the new Grand Piano label have featured cover paintings by the Norwegian artist Gro Thorsen, which if nothing else adds to the collectable value of the series. On the other hand, the gloomy urban pictures will not be to all tastes, and the one adorning this cover does not entirely convince on either an artistic or technical plane.
Collected reviews and contact at
An intuitive sense of expression and phrasing brings this magical music to life.