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Sterling CDS-1085
Sterling CDS-1085

CD Reviews: Suite for Piano & Orchestra etc.

Suite for Piano & Orchestra op.200, Overtures: Die Eifersüchtigen & König Alfred, Prelude & Die Dornhecke Intermezzo from Dornröschen, Prelude: Act III of Samson.
Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands Opera, Umeå, conducted by Roland Kluttig. Tra Nguyen, piano.
Sterling CDS-1085 2009 DDD 77:46
Reviewed by Dennis Slade Also reviewd by Mark Thomas, Ilja Nieuwland & Peter Storm van Leeuwen.

At last! In terms of Raff CD releases, the event of 2009 sees the release on Sterling of the Suite for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 200, plus Overtures and Preludes (never before available commercially until now)! Those who have already heard the audio extracts on the website, together with those, like myself, lucky enough to have heard the whole radio performance of Opus 200, as performed by Peter Aronsky and the Radio Symphonieorchester, Basel, already knew what a wonderful, superb piece this is, surely one of Raff’s very best achievements! The Aronsky version, as fine as it was, does not compare with the latest interpretation by Tra Nguyen, a wonderfully gifted pianist, who manages to combine both passion and delicacy, in a truly magisterial interpretation of the work. Each of the five movements is a gem and sees Raff at his most melodious.

The first movement has a stately bearing to it, leading to some rapid-fire, exquisite keyboard work by Miss Nguyen. Its main theme, an uplifting melody, is constantly subject to mood changes but returns in its opening guise to triumphantly close a movement, which, although some 10 minutes long, seems to glide by in moments. The second movement, a more intimate and delicate piece, both lyrical and languid, is utterly charming. Commencing with a broad melody, it soon takes on a yearning, lyrical quality which is very alluring. The movement closes on a joyous high. The third movement, my personal favourite, is built around a simple but highly effective melody, instantly memorable and characterised by much humour and verve. I find myself humming its jaunty melody, merely by thinking about it! The movement is all too quickly over, leaving me wishing that it had lasted longer! In complete contrast, the fourth movement gives rise to a serenely beautiful tune, both introspective and reflective, with an almost Chopinesque delicacy about it. It is interpreted by a pianist supremely able to bring out all the music’s subtle charms and is done with great finesse and delicacy. The conclusion of the work is a rousing finale, with a lively melody to start, both uplifting and joyous, with again a stately feel at times to the proceedings. The interplay between pianist and orchestra is especially lovely and the movement ends all too quickly on an inspiring high. Opus 200, as a whole, is immensely satisfying and testament to Raff’s great gift of melody. Miss Nguyen too, must be congratulated on a simply stunning performance. It is hard to believe this performance being bettered, unless Miss Nguyen records the piece again and the strings havea slightly fuller presence!

It is tempting to dwell merely on the Opus 200 and ignore to a lesser extent the remaining four works on the CD! There is no denying that the Suite for Piano and Orchestra is by far and away, the main work on the CD. It would therefore be so easy to see the remaining four works as merely having curiosity value, bearing in mind that they, too, have never before been recorded! Yet each of these works has an intrinsic value of its own and is fully deserving of its place on the CD. They are, quite simply, a joy to hear! The overture Die Eifersüchtigen is a marvellous piece and repays repeated hearings.  A lovely melody, both rousing and lyrical, invested in qualities of both light and shade, is reminiscent of some of Raff’s best symphonic work. The movement builds and builds and leads to a stirring finish. The overture to König Alfred is also lovely and at some fourteen minutes in length, is the most substantial work of the remaining pieces on the CD. Composed some twenty-five years before the Piano suite, it nevertheless makes for a most enjoyable listen. The work’s noble theme is constantly subject to change: from the bold, stirring and dramatic, to the more light-hearted, even dance-like, before leading to a triumphant conclusion. The two pieces from Dornröschen are delightful. The prelude, beginning with hesitant delicacy, has an almost fragile, shimmering beauty to it and is utterly charming. Die Dornhecke is equally delightful and seems to me to suggest, in miniature, all the joys of a hazy summer’s day in a meadow. The concluding piece from Samson closes the CD perfectly. Its plaintive melody, full of limpid delicacy, allied to the sweet tone of the violinist Per Ösman, is particularly affecting.

So there it is! A simply stunning CD! A must-buy in anyone’s book!

Dennis Slade
December 2009

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