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Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Trois Morceaux, Op.2 (1876) [12:31]
Fantasie-Sonata in D minor, Op.168 (pub.1872) [17:05]
Grand Sonata in E flat minor, Op.14 (second version, 1881) [31:38]
Valentina Seferinova (piano)
No recording details supplied

First issued on the Cahoots label this Raff piano recital has now been reissued on Cameo Classics, who have taken the decision to rejig the running order so that we now start with the delectable Trois Morceaux. It’s a programming decision I applaud because whilst one can fast-forward, it means that there is a logical build-up to the Grand Sonata via the Fantasie-Sonata.
There are no real concerns with Valentina Seferinova’s perceptive performance. Whilst one could wish for a touch more of the cavalier about the readings, from time to time, she lacks for nothing when it comes to savouring the rich lyricism inherent in the music. Having just listened to Neeme Järvi’s cat-among-the-pigeons and very fast-paced recording of the Leonore symphony, it’s welcome to find that, years ago, Seferinova appreciated that Raff’s slower music needs to keep moving to make its full effect.
The Trois Morceaux, written in 1876 and published the following year, start with an Elégie that is surprisingly flowing, and not especially melancholy. Its fluid drive is captured splendidly, as is the Romance – elegant though in the last resort not particularly distinctive. The concluding Waltz in D flat major reveals the engagingly extrovert side of his musical nature. The Fantasie-Sonata in D minor, published in 1872, opens portentously, and there are plenty of quasi-Lisztian virtuosic demands made of the performer and elements too of an almost Schubertian elegance in the curve of the melodies. One is especially struck in this three-sectioned work by the unvarnished beauty of the Largo section, which is varied, decorated and enjoyed until the emergence of the Allegro molto. Seferinova plays this work conspicuously well, especially its Wanderer Fantasy elements and in the stirring, strong and powerful conclusion.
The Grand Sonata is a powerful and even, at points, brooding work. It also enshrines a degree of contrapuntal writing in a way that, surprisingly sounds not at all academic, rather fused into the body of the musical argument with complete assurance and logic. The luminous treble sonorities in the bright scherzo and the passionate contrapuntalism of the slow movement are strong features of a work too long side-lined or ignored. This slow movement is surely very unusual in Raff’s oeuvre for its overt emotional cast. For the finale the lighter earlier tone is re-established, the writing full of incident, verve and imagination. It’s played with similar commitment and authority.
The recording quality is generally good, but perhaps a tiny bit distant. Kudos to Matthias Wiegandt's booklet notes, and to Cameo Classics for having the courage and confidence to restore this most enjoyable programme.
Jonathan Woolf