Bad Urach, Germany: Wednesday 2 October 2002
Stuttgart violin virtuoso Ingolf Turban and his piano accompanist Jascha Nemtsov are no strangers to Raff's music, having embarked on a five CD review of his complete works for violin and piano for CPO. They have already played several works live at a recent Stuttgart Concert and now seem completely at ease in this repertoire. In the first half of this chamber concert in the generously proportioned concert hall in Bad Urach's delightful Residenzschloss they played three works by Raff.
Appropriately enough, given the festival's Swiss theme, the first was his early Eklogue Aus der Schweitz - a rhapsodic and perhaps faintly naive work lasting about a quarter of an hour. The Swiss reminiscences were painted clearly by Raff - a rustic dance here, a waterfall there and, most prominently, the alphorn melody fondly recognised by anyone who has heard Rossini's William Tell overture, or traveled on a Swiss postbus. These simple elements were blended together skillfully to produced a shifting patchwork of textures and rhythms which never failed to entertain, especially when delivered with such charm and vivacity by Turban and the imperturbable Nemtsov.
Interrupting the Raff works was Burkhard's "The Sunday". For this small cantata, Turban and Nemtsov were joined by the baritone Florian Prey and cellist Matthias Beyer-Karshøj. About this work, more later.
Returning to Raff, Turban explained to the capacity audience that he and Nemtsov had originally planned to play the Violin Sonata No.3 (also played by them in Stuttgart in June) but that, on reflection, they felt that it would be too long for the programme and also rather a pompous work! Instead, they wanted to demonstrate that Raff, not the tersest of composers, could write effective short works. Accordingly, they announced that they would play three of the famous Six Morceaux op.85 interspersed by the first of the three Sonatilles op.91. Sonatille, Turban confirmed, was a term invented by Raff denoting a small sonata.
The first of the Six Morceaux, a Marcia, was played with a knowing smile. Like a portrait of a strutting youth playing at soldiers it was all empty swash and buckle. The frequent return of the march theme had a sighing inevitability about it in which Turban wittily revelled. The andantino Pastorale, no.2 in the set, seemed to have much less originality to it - a gentle pretty tune played with sensitivity but without offering perhaps too much depth with which to work.
The Sonatille No.1 was a delightful discovery. None of the movements lasted more than four minutes, yet into them Raff and his interpreters packed so much incident and skill. The tempestuous opening Allegro agitato was a showcase for Turban's dexterity as it skittered along. The central Larghetto was a limpid swell of typical Raff melody played with an appropriate sweetness of tone. Nemtsov took the honours in the helter skelter Tarantelle finale (marked Presto possibile, no less!), which betrayed the work's origin's as a set for solo piano.
Closing the first half, we were treated to a reprise of the pair's ground breaking Cavatine (op.85 no.3). Taking this familiar piece if anything even faster than they had in Stuttgart they once again proved that the glorious melody was strong enough to survive the stripping away all the accumulated cloying sentimentality of the intervening 140 years.
The second half consisted of the excellent Henschel String Quartet accompanying Florian Prey in Othmar Schoeck's five movement Notturno. The quartet were as technically excellent as the accompanying trio had been in the earlier Burkhart piece. That said, neither these mid-20th. century compositions nor the overall performances they received were to this reviewer's taste. So artistic judgement is best left to others better qualified, of whom there appeared to be plenty in the audience, judging by the extended applause which both works garnered.