Violin Sonata No.4 Chromatische, Violin Sonata No.5 & Sonatillen op.99 nos.1-3, 9 & 10
Ingolf Turban,violin & Jascha Nemtsov, piano
CPO 777 006 2007 DDD 64:18
It's been three years since the last volume of Turban & Nemtsov's survey of Raff's music for violin and piano was published. Although the lengthy set of Volker pieces (which will presumably feature in volume 5) was recorded some time ago, cpo delayed the recordings for this disk until last year, allowing Tudor to steal a march on them by issuing their own more modest series which contains all five Violin Sonatas, the Sonatillen and the Six Morceaux. That said, the previous volumes in the cpo survey were a delight, with Turban's quicksilver, muscular playing being superbly underpinned by Nemtsov's unflappably graceful pianism. So it proves to be here. Generally, this is as fine a set of performances as any Raff enthusiast could wish to own.
The first work in the programme is the magnificent one-movement Fourth Violin Sonata. Raff packs a lot into this short piece, making it difficult to characterise an interpretation, but overall the pair adopt a very dramatic approach to this mercurial work. There's no smoothing over the passionate outbursts which punctuate it; they are played with a powerful intensity which is in telling contrast to the singing lyricism to be found elsewhere. Tudor's Daskalakis and Ishay (Tudor 7122 - review) are more warmly relaxed, with the piano more of an equal partner, so it is a surprise to realise that theirs is the faster performance at 14:53, whilst Turban and Nemtsov take well over a minute longer because their tempi are much more varied. "You pays your money and you takes your choice"; with this reading you get a highly charged, dramatic interpretation whereas with Daskalakis and Ishay you get a warmer, sunnier one. Both are valid and attractive views and I wouldn't want to be without either.
The Violin Sonata No.5 is as much of a full blown Romantic work as its predecessor and it gets a similarly powerful reading. Turban's tone can sometimes have a hard edge and that's certainly, and appropriately, evident in the driving opening Allegro patetico. This is uncomfortable and unrelenting music and the pair don't let up, so that one is almost relieved when it is over. It's easy to overlook Nemtsov's contribution in such a turbulent piece, but whilst his self-effacing style might mean that Turban is usually in the spotlight when the drama is at its height, the pianist's support is crucial and rock solid.
The slow movement is another of those wonderful creations of Raff's which one loves from the start for the flow of glorious melody but which evolves into a compelling but still intensely lyrical portrait of sadness and regret. In this glorious music, the duo are more evenly paired, and Nemtsov's contribution in particular at the end of the movement is exquisitely judged to squeeze out the last drop of emotion. Overall, though, I thought that Daskalakis and Ishay (Tudor 7129 -review) were just a little more effective here, perhaps because they didn't wallow quite so much, shaving a whole minute off Turban and Nemtsov's timing.
It's taking nothing from the superb technique of either duo to say that they both dash through the Presto third movement, treating it quite properly as the splash of cold water needed to restore equilibrium after the emotional roller coaster of the first two movements. Honours even.
The final Allegro agitato is aptly named. This isn't another of Raff's festive finales. Once again, even in the more reflective passages, Turban's edgy tone reinforces the unsettled nature of the music. His frenetic scurrying dominates the movement and that makes the odd calm interjection by Nemtsov all the more effective. Take the calmly quiet passage beginning around 3:00 for example. Once again, they adopt a more histrionic approach to the music than do their Tudor competition whose sunnier, more relaxed view at least brings some solace and resolution at the end of this generally anxious Sonata.
The substantial fillers are another five of the ten Sonatillen which Raff arranged in 1880 from his earlier three Sonatilles, or mini piano sonatas. Four have already been issued on an earlier Volume in the series (cpo 999 769 - review). As between them these two CDs have over half an hour of unused time, it is very odd that the Eighth Sonatille is still absent. If the Eighth is going to appear at all, the set will now be spread over three CDs. Here the competition (Tudor 7109 - review) is better organised and present the complete set, together with the Six Morceaux on a single CD. Tudor's pairing are Michaela Paetsch Neftel and Eric Le Van, the warmth and wit of whose interpretation makes sure that these delightful miniatures came across in the best possible light. With the exception of the Tenth Sonatille, Turban and Nemtsov tend to play these works more earnestly than Neftel and Le Van and some of the charm is lost in the process. Just because they can be played faster, doesn't mean that they should be. It's only a slight difference, but somehow these delicate things are diminished by it and on the whole I marginally prefer the Tudor performances. That said, they are beautifully played and if you'd rather that any whiff of the salon was excluded, then these are the interpretations for you.
One can do nothing but applaud the intelligence and superb technique which these two fine artists bring to Raff. They are complemented by cpo's usual fine sound with its impeccable balance between the instruments. The booklet notes by Georg Albrecht Eckle, in cpo's usual dire English translation, are entertainingly rambling but at least they concentrate on the music rather than rehash Raff's biography.
Compared with their Tudor competitors Turban and Nemtsov deliver edgier, more dramatic interpretations, which certainly suit the two sonatas, if not the less robust Sonatillen. Despite that minor reservation this CD can thoroughly be recommended.
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