Lachen, Switzerland: Saturday 11 September 1999
This concert, organised by the Swiss Joachim Raff Society to celebrate the 25th. anniversary of its President Res Marty, marked both the premiere and a triumphant return to the concert hall of works by Raff. The pretty little lakeside town of Lachen is Raff's birthplace and it has been the venue for several concerts featuring Raff's music over the past few years. This time the packed audience in Lachen's catholic church were treated to performances of the Overture to Raff's opera Benedetto Marcello WoO.46 and the Violin Concerto No.2 op206.
In the first half the touring Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under its permanent conductor Saulius Sondeckis gave a performance of Mozart's Symphony No.29 in A which was full of charm and affection. The contrast could hardly have been greater with the second work - Shostakovitch's dark Chamber Symphony, produced a powerful and dramatic reading which emphasised the desolation of this bleak work. The interval allowed a brief but welcome breath of fresh air on this hot and humid evening.
Swiss conductor Giovanni Bria, a longtime promoter of Raff's music, took over the podium for the all-Raff second part and the soloist for the 2nd. Violin Concerto in a minor was the young German violinist Julia Galic. The work is in three distinct movements and lasted in this performance about 40 minutes. The opening Allegro features one of Raff's characteristic striding, confident themes contrasted with melodies of great lyric charm. Raff employs his usual orchestra and as a result his scoring is clear with none of the details obscured - no mean feat in the church's somewhat booming acoustic. The balance between soloist and orchestra is also expertly maintained. Throughout this movement the soloist is to the fore with only a couple of brief orchestral tutti giving respite - this showcase gives the soloist ample opportunity for virtuoso display, which was very ably demonstrated by Galic with her sparkling and passionate playing.
The hit of the evening, however, was undoubtedly the following Adagio - surely amongst Raff's finest creations. This extended and deeply lyrical piece held the audience rapt as Galic's impassioned and sensitive playing emphasised the sad and wistful atmosphere created by Raff. The work's central climax, strongly underscored by the orchestra, has tragic overtones from which the soloist leads the piece back to a world of more gentle melancholy. The total silence with which the audience met the end of this movement showed both the power of Raff's writing and the poetry of Galic's playing.
The concluding Allegro lightens the mood with a festive
finale so typical of Raff, and in which the orchestra is allowed an equal
share of the virtuoso display. The soloist's opening, somewhat skittish,
motif is extensively developed by Raff to form the basis of a rousing
and very effective conclusion to the concerto after an pyrotechnic cadenza
from the violinist. The audience's rapturous 5 minute appreciation of
Galic was well deserved - it is difficult to imagine a more persuasive
performance with which to reintroduce this wonderful music to the concert
During a short intermission Giovanni Bria, speaking from the podium, congratulated Res Marty on his achievements during his presidency of the Swiss Raff Society, thanked the corporate sponsors of this free concert and welcomed Volker Tosta of the International Raff Society and publisher of the Raff works played.
The final offering was the premiere of Raff's overture to his penultimate opera Benedetto Marcello - also called "Life and Art". In keeping with the good-natured tenor of the opera itself this 10 minute work is a busy and light hearted affair, brim full of melody and incident and rather reminiscent of Raff's earlier overture to his comic opera Dame Kobold. A particularly effective device used twice is the sudden halting of the orchestra's bustle for a melting theme played by the solo clarinet. The calm does not last for long, however, and the Overture's breakneck final section was an effective ending to a memorable evening in Raff's birthplace. In both Raff works Giovanni Bria's expansive, vigorous conducting style and evident attention to detail led the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra to playing of finesse and persuasiveness in these unfamiliar works, appropriately rewarded with extended applause from an evidently delighted audience.