Joachim RAFF(1822-1882) Piano Works 1 Frühlingsboten, op.55 (1850-52) [35:30] Drei Klavier-Soli, op.74 (1852) [29:08] Fantaisie in B, WoO.15a (c.1850-52) [12:09]
Tra Nguyen (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, Wales, 28-29 January 2011.
GRAND PIANO GP602 [76:47]
This is the first volume of a three-CD survey of German-Swiss
composer Joachim Raff's piano music by British-Vietnamese pianist
Tra Nguyen on HNH/Naxos's new Grand Piano label. The second
is already available (GP612 - see review)
with the third due out later this year.
Raff wrote a massive amount of piano music, so this is a long
way from being a 'complete works' series, but it does give a
taster of the considerable genius of a composer long subject
to the ill-conceived edicts of critics past, prejudiced by that
prolific production, which extended to other genres, and by
the many potboilers and pretty salon pieces written to earn
This is Nguyen's debut solo recording, but she has made two
chamber CDs with the German clarinettist Sabine Grofmeier and,
more relevantly, two more with the Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands
Opera under Roland Kluttig for the Swedish label Sterling (CDS10852,
In those recordings she performs Raff's Suite for piano
and orchestra op.200 and his Die Tagezeiten op.209, a
massive Beethovenesque extravaganza for piano, choir and orchestra.
Her own belief in Raff is further signalled 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.
Her generous programme of premiere recordings begins with Frühlingsboten
(Harbingers of Spring), made up of twelve short character
pieces, two to four minutes in length. These are lovely Schumannesque
items, Romantically fragranced and poetic, evocative and varied.
All three works on the CD date from a time when Raff was living
with Liszt as a member of his household - as his amanuensis,
to be precise. There is more of Liszt's influence detectable
in the attractively nostalgic and very lively Fantaisie
WoO.15a, a work which disappeared for over 150 years before
being unearthed among some organ works of Liszt's at the Nederlands
Muziek Instituut in 2010.
Between these two works lie the Three Piano Solos op.74,
one of three opuses Raff dedicated to the famous conductor and
one-time son-in-law of Liszt, Hans von Bülow, who had befriended
him a few years previously, and who went on to become one of
his most enthusiastic advocates and devoted friends. These are
more or less three separate works: a moody andantino
Ballade in G, a high-octane presto Scherzo in A minor
and a complex set of variations in A flat entitled Metamorphosen.
Taken as a whole they are showcases of considerable virtuosity,
skill and confidence, and when Bülow gave the premiere
of Metamorphosen in 1859, Raff's renown and reputation
Raff's piano music lies somewhere between Beethoven and Liszt
in character, spirit, harmonically - fashioned intellectually
but emotionally layered and highly entertaining. Nguyen is clearly
aware of Raff's historical lineage and imbues his music with
what seems like the perfect dynamic of energy, drama, light
and pathos. Her excellent technique and expressive flexibility
- for example, demonstrating restraint where another might turn
to melodrama - combine to produce interpretations that will
long serve as a yardstick against which future performers must
Sound quality is very good, warm and intimate, yet still spacious.
There is a slight bias towards the left channel, but it is fairly
minimal. In the second of the Three Piano Solos there is a mysterious
faint crackling in the same channel, but it comes and goes and
is barely noticeable. The English-German booklet notes by Mark
Thomas of the invaluable Joachim
Raff Society are extensive, detailed and well-written. Nguyen's
biography, in contrast, is rather on the concise side.
There is no need to wait for volume 3, incidentally, for more
of Raff's piano music - Genesis recently released veteran American
soloist Adrian Ruiz's account of the Grande Sonate in E flat
minor, op.14 and the Piano Suite in D minor, op.91 (GCD118).
Apart from Ruiz's fine playing and Raff's thrilling music, the
disc is remarkable for the fact that Ruiz made the two recordings
an incredible forty years apart - both for Genesis.
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