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on January 22, 2012
I am in awe of the Raff Piano Quartets. If there is one work that can be called Raff's masterpiece it's this, his Op. 202. In this work he establishes himself as a worthy successor of Beethoven. These 2 Quartets are nothing less than symphonic in their development on a grand scale. The complete assurance with which he handles his materials is dazzling. I think this is some of the best music of its kind of the 19th century--the equal of any of the productions in this form from the likes of Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Faure, yielding nothing to them. The performance by Ensemble Il Trittico and guest artist sets the standard by which future recordings will have to be measured for a long time to come. Highly recommended.
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on February 24, 2016
Joachim Raff (1822-1882) once occupied a comfortable position in the stratosphere of major German composers. By the 20th century, he became a mere footnote in music history. Part of the reason is a blemished reputation for writing hackneyed trifles for the amateur market, which he was forced to do during a period of financial hardship. This accounts for his extensive oeuvre reaching opus 216. Much of Raff’s music is conventional; some of it is mediocre. Yet a lot of it—particularly the chamber music—has merit. Even the occasional masterpiece can be found. Raff’s two piano quartets are not his best—those would be the four piano trios. But they possess fine writing and attractive qualities in a German Romantic style akin to Mendelssohn and Brahms with a dab of Liszt in the piano writing.

The Piano Quartet No. 1 in G major (1876) is largely genial, sunny, and distinctly Mendelssohnian. It opens with an expansive “Allegro” written in the classical mode with sparkling Haydnesque piano filigree and runs. Raff demonstrates exquisite contrapuntal writing and well-wrought thematic material. In the “Allegro molto” Raff fashions a devilish scherzo with fast bowing and hectic galloping triplets on the piano. But the finest movement is the “Andante quasi adagio,” one of supreme dignity and introspection, featuring intense pangs of expression and a Russian character that anticipates late Tchaikovsky. The innocuous finale is a triumphant journey towards light and essentially a perpetuum mobile with brilliant piano activity.

Much more substantial and emotionally complex is the Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor (1877). Here Raff lives up to the Beethovenian vision of C minor with a tempestuous “Allegro” of virtuosic pianism, somber bass registers, and a tumultuous development section. Next is a short and vigorous “Allegro” with a nice defiant theme. Typical of Raff, he pours his most arresting and heartfelt ideas into the slow movement, an expressive “Larghetto” of tender beauty, pathos, and long stretches of impassioned writing. Capping the work is a light and relaxed finale harkening back to the classical era and nodding to Brahms. There are some spurts of tension and momentum, but mostly fast piano glitter and upbeat charm.

Bottom line: Raff’s piano trios remain his greatest chamber efforts, but these two piano quartets have much to recommend them; the second in C minor is particularly dramatic and interesting. Performances by the Ensemble Il Trittico are superlative and above reproach; balance, tone, technique, and expressive conviction are all there.
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on September 20, 2013
There is a reawakening of Raff's music taking place and rightfully so. If you enjoy ensemble music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, I see no reason why you would not like these. In my opinion, Raff's trios are more lyrical than his quartets, but they are all very good to hear. The sound quality and the execution of the pieces appear first rate.
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