Violin Sonata No.2 op.78, Six Morceaux op.85 & Duo
op.63 no.3 on motifs from Wagner's Lohengrin
Ingolf Turban,violin & Jascha Nemtsov, piano
CPO 999 768 2003 DDD 67:09
This, the second volume in cpo's projected complete survey of Raff's music for violin and piano, will have been eagrely awaited by anyone who has listened to the first recording. On that disc violinist Ingolf Turban and his accompanist Jascha Nemtsov showed themselves worthy champions of this "new" repertoire, having a happy combination of the technical skill to master its undoubted difficulties and the poetic imagination to produce readings which satisfied the heart as well as the head. Having heard them perform works from this series in concerts in Stuttgart and Bad Urach recently, I felt able to sit down to listen to this latest offering with some confidence.
I wasn't disappointed.
Despite being a big work (almost 37 minutes in this performance) the Violin Sonata No.2 is an altogether sweeter piece than the First Sonata and Turban adopts an appropriately smooth tone for it - nothing edgy here. It inhabits the world already made famliar to us by the Piano Trios, although it pre-dates th earliest of them by three years. The first movement's direction to be played with "warmth and animation" is an apt summary of the material which bowls along in a generally good natured way whilst never lapsing into commonplace. One is reminded of the first movement of the Symphony No.2 - Raff at his open hearted best. The calm and reflective dialogue that begins the slow movement is supplanted by an improvisatory passage; one slowly realises that this is essentially a disguised set of variations. A succession of such contrasts leads towards an impassioned final section. A real gem, played with subtlety by both men.
The brief third movement, not as melodically rich as the preceding ones, is taken at an moderate pace - and quite properly so, as it has more the character of a dance than of a scherzo. The finale is marked "swift and furious" and that's pretty much how the pair take it except for a delicate slower passage in which Nemtsov takes the lead. Contrary to Georg Albrecht Eckle's opinion in his rather carping booklet notes, this piece is more distinguished thematically than Raff's final movements can sometimes be. It duplicates the genial character of the first movement and satisfyingly rounds off a delightful work.
The Six Morceaux of 1859 are a set of beautifully crafted salon pieces. Arguably mere trifles, each is as effective as a well made miniature can be. Turban and Nemtsov play them for all their considerable worth. The childish strut opening the Marcia is nicely contrasted with the piece's alternating playful material. The Pastoral has an elusive character - an enigmatic idyll which has a wistful air. About the Cavatine much has been written over the years; an unkind quirk of fate has made it Raff's most famous work. The reasons for its fame are easy to see, though, especially when played in the unsentimental and indeed heroic manner employed by Turban. The Scherzino, taken at a cracking pace, has more than a hint of irony about its slightly schmaltzy lyrical interludes. Irony is properly absent in the uninterrupted melody of the following Canzona which is nicely judged by Turban, with Nemtsov's piano lending unobtrusive support. The Tarantella outstrips even the Scherzino as a whirlwind tour de force in the brilliant style of playing - a properly sparkling close to this delightful set.
The first disk in this series introduced us to Raff's three Duos on themes from Wagner operas. This time we have the third of the set in which Raff used material from the wedding scene of "Lohengrin". It's odd to hear the famous bridal march played low down on the piano before being taken up by the violin and developed as an essay in abstract composition, divorced of its dramatic role in the opera. So familiar is this melody in particular that one's reaction risks being akin to hearing one of those occasional works based upon national anthems - something of a relief when the "tune" isn't too obvious! The duo succeeds in Raff's plan of distracting the listener from too close an association with the original and in the process lay bare Raff's genius too.
The recording itself and the production values of this issue are fine, with a good balance between the instruments. In fact is very hard to find fault with this release. My only criticism is of Georg Albrecht Eckle's booklet notes. Although largely a repetition of those in the first disk, there are of course new sections commenting on each work in this recording. Without fail, in these Eckle's academically dry style damns with faint praise. Surely cpo could have found someone with a bit more enthusiasm? That said, one doesn't read the booklet before one buys the CD and one only needs to read it once. The music in these superb performances can be enjoyed many times over.
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