Violin Sonata No.2 op.78 and Violin Sonata No.5 op.145
Ariadne Daskalakis, violin & Roglit Ishay, piano
Tudor 7129 2006 DDD 65:55
We've had to wait eighteen months for Tudor to complete Daskalakis and Ishay's survey of Raff's violin sonatas. The first disk (Tudor 7022 - review) was well received, revealing a warmer and more lyrical side to these works than had been displayed by the pairing of Ingolf Turban and Jascha Nemtsov with their edgy but impressive performances of the first three sonatas for cpo. The cpo project of recording all the music for violin and piano seemingly having stalled for the time being, this second disk has another Raff recording first, the emotionally charged Violin Sonata No.5. The coupling is the sunny Second Sonata, a work already available from cpo.
On their earlier disk, Daskalakis and Ishay demonstrated that in the two sonatas which they had in common with Turban and Nemtsov, they were their equals in the virtuoso stakes. They brought warmth and overt lyricism to the music, which was sometimes missing from the altogether more nervous and driven interpretations of the cpo pair. Raff's violin sonatas are amongst his most rewarding works and we have been lucky to have such high quality but different approaches to them.
The Violin Sonata No.2 in the hands of the cpo duo (cpo 999 768 - review) is a genial and relaxed piece and it is something of a surprise to hear what Daskalakis and Ishay make of it. Their often brisker tempi characterise its expansive opening movement, and the greater sense of pace and direction that is introduced into the overall structure enhances its drama. There is plenty of the "warmth" required by Raff and rather more of the "animation" than Turban and Nemtsov demonstrated. Although there are some episodes of languid repose, it's altogether a less relaxed and more purposeful start to the piece, so it comes as a surprise that they take almost a minute longer over it. The second movement variations follow the same pattern. Taking Raff's "Nicht zu langsam" indication seriously, it is generally taken at a moderate pace once the slow introductory dialogue is out of the way. Perhaps shaving 20% off their rival's timing means that some of the engaging lyricism of their performance is lost, but this sprightly interpretation has a charm all its own and it isn't without its profundities; the build up to the climax which starts at 6:15 is powerful stuff.
The faster third movement on the whole is more convincing from Turban and Nemtsov, who take it at a moderate speed emphasising its dance character. The Tudor pair adopt a sprightlier tempo which bounces along nicely, but even at just over six minutes the movement in their hands seems more bland and conventional, despite a nicely judged close. The delightful finale is one of Raff's most effective conclusions and there's little to choose here between the two performances. Perhaps Daskalakis relaxes more effectively into the lyrical interludes, possibly Nemtsov's contribution is more prominently effective, but in truth you'd be hard pressed not to love either interpretation. And that's the verdict on the two performances overall. They present this fine work in different lights but both are very satisfying. I wouldn't want to be without either.
For the time being Daskalakis and Ishay have the Fifth Sonata of 1868 to themselves. Despite being on an smaller scale than the Second, it is a powerfully romantic work, showing all the hallmarks of a composer who had reached the high point of his career. Ishay imbues the opening bars with a portentousness appropriate to the restless and yearning character of the first movement, with its generally busy, ascending motifs and lack of repose. There is little that is genial or comfortable here and Daskalakis' customary warmth is appropriately lacking. She brings an edge to her playing which is well complemented by Ishay's turbulent piano.
Ishay again begins the second movement, this time with a solemn chorale-like theme. The sweet tone adopted by Daskalakis on her entry is in marked and very effective contrast to what went before, but the Andante soon shows that it is no mere comfortable release from the first movement's angst. The central section is troubled, and the pair are particularly affecting in the passage around 4:50 where the climax collapses back into the opening chorale, taken at a faster pace. The grief conveyed by the movement's close is palpable. Woldemar Bargiel once wrote that Raff "produces ideas and melodies that appear as if they should tear the should from the body, but one is left with the conviction that their inventor felt absolutely nothing for them." If there was ever a refutation of Bargiel's jibe, this is it.
The Presto third movement comes as a blessed release and it is dashed off with aplomb. Throughout this fine work, the piano is the equal of the violin and this is nowhere better heard than in this flightily exuberant scherzo, where Ishay perfectly matches Daskalakis' lightness of touch before sounding a slightly more serious note to bring this flibbertigibbet of a movement to a close. The finale is played with all the restless energy which the duo brought to the opening Allegro, but although there's a certain nervousness to the movement, they manage to couple it with a more positive feeling. The reflective passage which begins around 2:30 is especially effective and the transition from this to the main body of the movement about a minute later is very finely graded. The sunny closing pages are a fitting close to an impressive work which is played here with all the intelligence and virtuosity it merits.
The recording is typical of Tudor's high quality sound although it could have been improved, particularly in the Fifth Sonata, had the violin not been placed forward at the expense of the piano. Eckhardt van den Hoogen's insert notes are interesting, if elliptical and inaccurate in places. Largely dispensing with an unnecessary biography, he concentrates instead on a welcome discussion of Raff's development as a composer.
This is a fine addition to the canon of Raff recordings and these performances are thoroughly recommendable. If you own the Turban and Nemtsov interpretation of the Second Sonata, do add this disk to your collection too. You won't regret it.
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