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Robin de RAAFF (b.1968)
Violin Concerto (2006-2008) [32.02]
Symphony No.1 – Tanglewood Tales (2007-2014) [21.51]
Jaap van Zweden (conductor)
Tasmin Little (violin)
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest
rec. NTR Zaredagmatinee, no date
ET’CETERA KTC1593 [63.53]

This is an enterprising addition to Et’Cetera’s ‘Dutch Composers’ series and should, I hope, add to understanding of contemporary trends in the music of the Netherlands. Et’Cetera have already made a substantial commitment to de Raaff’s music and the present recording demonstrates why.

De Raaff, from Breda, studied first at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, and subsequently at the Royal College in London, where he was the only composition pupil of George Benjamin. He studied also with Julian Anderson. While his voice is distinctly his own, there are similarities in their musical worlds – and de Raaff’s is an instantly attractive one. A feature of his approach is the use of the hocket (the medieval device in which a melody moves seamlessly from one instrument or voice to another).

The Violin Concerto is fascinatingting in various ways. It is in five movements, the first – ‘Opening’ (Cadenza Corale) – almost as long as the remaining movements added together. The sound world is slightly unusual – first and second violins are situated in two lines across the front of the orchestra to create a ripieno effect, with the second violins tuned a minor second lower than the others. The results are striking and audible, though I suspect even more powerful in concert.

This is a major contribution to the violin concerto repertoire, and it is difficult to imagine it better performed than here. De Raaff dedicated it to Jaap van Zweden and had Tasmin Little in mind as soloist. Their dedication is evident. There is another recording forthcoming from Attacca Records, as part of a two disc set of de Raaff’s concertos.

There is much to enjoy in the First Symphony – de Raaff has a strong connection with the Tanglewood Festival. The three movements were written at different times: the centre movement, ‘Entangled Tales’ was premièred alone, and before the other sections (the introductory movement was premiered in 2011, the brief coda, written in 2014, in 2016). This might suggest a degree of bittiness, but there are connections, though each movement can be enjoyed on its own. Nevertheless, for me, ‘Entangled Tales’ was the strongest of the movements. On balance, I found the Symphony less memorable than the concerto, but, for all that, very worthwhile.

Michael Wilkinson


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