Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
La fée d’amour, morceau caractéristique, op. 67 [18:11]
Suite for solo violin and orchestra op. 181 [28:55]
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B minor op. 161 (1870) [28:55]
Tobias Ringborg (violin)
Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands Opera/Andrea Quinn
rec. Umeå Concert Hall, 12-15 June 2007. DDD
STERLING CDS1075-2[76:52]

Dapper, deftly orchestrated and with a light, lyric profile: that’s the opening panel of Joachim Raff’s 1854 Le Fée d’Amour. It accords well with Raff’s reputation as a tunesmith, though one forever condemned to be known as a miniaturist when, in fact, as this disc and others have demonstrated, he worked on a bigger span entirely. This is a concertante work for violin and orchestra predicated on Lisztian structural lines – a single movement subdivided into the standard three – that involves some deliciously Mendelssohnian wind writing in the final section. This is probably the most convincing element of the work, where the solo violin’s initially mordant statements are met by an orchestra encouraging greater lightness of being. Happily the fiddle responds and is rewarded with a cadenza that must have tested the work’s first performer, Edmund Singer, the leader of Liszt’s Weimar Orchestra. It holds no terrors for Tobias Ringborg.

The Violin Concerto No.1 had a tortuous history. It was written in 1870 for August Wilhelmj, but the noted virtuoso intervened and subjected the work to his own re-write. He cut 50 bars, refashioned orchestral passages, pumped up the solo violin part, added counterpoint and beefed up the orchestration. And it was this free reworking that accrued to the work, Raff’s original only resurfacing in 1930. Fortunately it’s the original version that we hear in this recording. Again it’s cast as a single movement with obvious demarcation points. The orchestration is not over-colourful but always apt. Themes are strong, the music well laid out. The central slow movement has veiled warmth with a ripening lyric beauty, and here Ringborg responds avidly to the music’s increasing intensity of expression. The triumphal brassiness of a March - there is a suggestion that this alludes to the recent Franco-Prussian war – announces the final section, a rather garrulous but freewheeling rout. It would be intriguing to hear Wilhelmj’s own version, which is likely to sound more conventionally opulent (orchestrally) and virtuosic (violinistically).

The last work on the bill of fare is the Suite for Solo Violin and Orchestra, written for another distinguished violinist, Hugo Heermann, who had premiered Raff’s Violin Concerto No.2 when the intended soloist, the great Sarasate, had called off. Some of the movements open solo, à la Bach, and strong Baroque dance patterns predominate, cast however in the language of high Romanticism. Ringborg digs into the central Corrente with resinous brio, finds rich lyricism in the Aria and dispatches the work with stylistic confidence.

The fine performances, abetted by excellent notes and recording quality, make the best case possible for works that are on the lighter side of the Romantic divide.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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