Violin Concerto No.2
op.206, Cavatine from Six Pieces op.85, Ungrischer op.203
no.5 and Violin Concerto No.1 op.161 (arr. Wilhelmj)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Hans von Stadlmair, Violinist: Michaela Paetsch Neftel
Tudor 7086 2000 DDD 70:07
This welcome CD fills a void in bringing us most of Raff's music for violin and orchestra - the major exceptions being the Suite and the early Konzertstück "Die Liebesfee". Three of the four pieces are unfamiliar and the two concertos are major works in Raff's oeuvre. So, for any Raff enthusiast this is an essential buy almost irrespective of the quality of the performances - luckily Tudor has found artists who are able to make a good case for these unfamiliar works.
The thickly scored tuttis of the first Violin Concerto comes as a shock - surely this isn't Raff? Well, yes and no. Apparently the only complete score which can be tracked down is the later arrangement made by the dedicatee, the virtuoso Wilhelmj. A Wagner devotee, he seems to have reorchestrated the piece in a heavier late romantic style and recomposed about a third of the work.
This tinkering with the orchestration is most apparent in the long first movement which not only doesn't sound like Raff, but also seems to ramble uncharacteristically - whether Raff was having an "off day" or whether Wilhemj's alterations are responsible is difficult to tell. The thematic material is effective enough but not as memorable as one is used to from Raff and this is also true of the short lyrical slow movement. In Raff's original the first two movements were linked and Wilhelmj's meddling with structure has its worst effect - the brief adagio makes little musical sense in its shortened form and with the loss of the link passage from the dramatic movement before it. The brisk concluding Allegro triumphale is a bright march based on a very catchy tune which is perhaps repeated rather too often. Throughout Stadlmair provides solid support to impeccable playing from Neftel and the tempi appear to be well chosen. A shame that we aren't able to hear the original - its unfair to Raff for one of his major works to be judged on the basis of this crippled torso.
Luckily, there are no such problems with the 2nd. Concerto which was recently republished in an authoritative new edition from Edition Nordstern. The contrast with the earlier concerto is telling - this work emerges as a fine creation in this excellent performance. Stadlmair judges the pace of the first movement well, with the Bambergers' secure ensemble underpinning Neftel's dazzling virtuosity in the piece's highly contrasting moods. This is a classic Raff opening movement - plenty of forward momentum and excitement.
The high point is undoubtedly the gorgeous slow movement with its wealth of melody. It is the concerto's centre of gravity and the mellow atmosphere is well captured here. Neftel could perhaps have made more of the closing pages - the wonderful gentle melancholy of Galich's Lachen performance is missing here and this highlights the major reservation about her playing throughout this disk. Often one wishes that her heart was in the music and not just her head.
The orchestra has a major role in the sprightly finale and their contribution to this stubbornly memorable piece is well matched to Neftel's - together they make the movement a more substantial and satisfying conclusion than it seemed even in the groundbreaking Galich/Bria performance last year in Lachen.
"Ungrisher" is Raff's own arrangement for violin and orchestra of a movement of his "Volker" cyclic tone poem for violin and piano. As its name implies it is a Hungarian genre piece - the first half slow, followed by a fizzing gypsy dance which could be from one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. Neftel puts plenty of Magyar feeling into the atmospheric opening section and the pyrotechnic closing pages are surmounted with aplomb. No lost masterpiece, perhaps, but an attractive work played here with just the right combination of care and panache.
The one familiar piece in the programme is the Cavatine - here in an arrangement for violin and orchestra made in Raff's day by Singer. There is little sentimentality in Neftel's interpretation and she doesn't linger unnecessarily, but Stadlmair builds the second half into an impassioned climax which is in telling contrast to Butt's dismal interpretation on ASV.
Special mention should be made of Volker Tosta's detailed booklet note - a model of its kind. What a shame that it is only printed in German and that English and French readers have to make do with a much shorter alternative.
Overall Michaela Paetsch Neftel's playing is difficult to fault, though a display of some genuine emotion and warmth to complement the technical skill would be welcome. Hans von Stadlmair and his Bambergers provide well judged support throughout. The recording quality is generally good, if a little booming in the climaxes. The balance slightly favours the soloist but not excessively so. All in all, despite the hybrid 1st. Concerto, an essential addition to any Raffianer's collection.
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