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Joseph Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Complete Violin Sonatas - Volume 1
Violin Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 73 [32:51]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 78 [39:49]
Laurence Kayaleh (violin)
Jean-Fabien Schneider (piano)
rec. 2017, Pollack Hall, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
NAXOS 8.573841 [72:47]

Over the years I have amassed quite a few recordings of Raff’s music, including his symphonies, concertante works, piano music, songs and chamber music. This collection includes a couple of the volumes of Ingolf Turban and Jascha Nemtsov’s survey of the complete music for violin and piano for CPO, and I was, therefore, interested to hear what Kayaleh and Schneider have to say about the violin sonatas. The violin was, after all, the composer’s favourite instrument and his violin music was championed by Sarasate.

Although at the time these sonatas were well received, these days they are all but forgotten like a lot of Raff’s highly romantic music, and it is only through recordings that his music is heard. Raff began work on what was to be his Violin Sonata in E minor in the autumn of 1853 and it was completed in early 1858. He had already composed no less than ten works for the violin, but this was his first sonata of five. Strongly articulated, this sonata, as with the Second, offers a degree of equality between the violin and the piano, with both instruments sharing the limelight at times. Opening with an agitated movement there is a sense of playful humour as well as drama here, as in the Sonata as a whole and this carries over into the Scherzo. This is contrasted with the passionate slow movement, or as it is marked “Not too slow”, with its lilting main theme. This is at odds with the final movement with its intense opening piano ripple leading into the main theme which is interrupted by a quite lovely slow section in which the piano is given the lead, the violin following only about thirty seconds later.

The Sonata in A was completed four years later in 1858, by which time Raff was beginning to make his mark in the musical world in his own right. Again, we have a sonata deeply rooted in romanticism with perhaps a bit more warmth that the Sonata No. 1, indeed the opening movements time signature being “Quick, with warmth and animation”. Unlike No. 1 here we get the slow movement, or again “Not too slow”, placed second, some lovely tender music here which benefits from nice thematic development. The third movement sees the piano take the lead again which the violin supports; this soon changes however, with some lovely “not too lively” violin writing. The Sonata concludes with a movement marked “Quick and fiery”, which brings this Sonata and the disc as a whole to a nice positive conclusion.

Throughout this disc Laurence Kayaleh and Jean-Fabien Schneider show great insight into each other’s abilities, leading to a real partnership performance with both performers on top form. I must say that I prefer the violin tone of Ingolf Turban but only very slightly, on CPO, but since I only have their later volumes, and with the discs that offer these two sonatas now deleted and being offered for silly prices on line, I am more than happy to have this disc in my collection and will be investing in the second volume soon. Good recorded sound and an informative essay add to the enjoyment of this disc.

Stuart Sillitoe

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