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
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 artmusicreviews.co.uk
An intuitive sense of expression and phrasing brings this magical music to life.