"Joachim Raff is the Rodney Dangerfield of classical music -- he don't get no respect. But he should! Raff, who was productive in the era from about 1855 to 1880, was considered a titan in his time but was eventually eclipsed by Brahms and Wagner. A master orchestrator and lyricist, with a genius for melody, Raff is the epitome of the Romantic composer -- beautiful works, well-wrought, intended to please. There is no sturm und drang, but he will bring a smile to your face and leave you humming along.
The Ponti/Kapp recording of the Piano Concerto is energetic, appropriately lyrical in the slow movement, rollicking in the heroic finale. Raff was a student of Liszt and the concerto is reminiscent of Liszt's own, but is more melodious and less bombastic (though it has its share of that.) I find Raff to be superior to Liszt in his orchestral works (indeed, Raff, as an employee of Liszt's, orchestrated some of Liszt's tone poems); the Raff concerto is the sort of thing you listen to and say, "Why isn't that performed more often?" Ponti was the pioneer in making sure it was performed, and this recording, albeit a couple of decades old, still has good sound and a vibrant polish undimmed by time (or by Vox's sometime reputation for tinny sound).
If you're bitten by the Raff bug after this, may I suggest a few symphonies to try?: No. 3, Im Walde; No. 5, Lenore, No. 8, Sounds of Spring. Raff is easily the equal of any number of better-known Romantics such as Liszt, Saint Saens, Rimsky-Korsakov, Smetana, and Bruch. His reputation is gradually being restored, and Ponti has done his part.
(Also of interest in the set is the Stavenhagen concerto, written by a virtuoso pianist of Liszt's day. A pleasant bonus!)"
A FEAST OF FORGOTTEN DELIGHTS!
David Arenson | 09/26/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is, arguably, the best of the entire series of VOX's worthy "The Romantic Piano Concerto" CDs. This set has the strongest "batting order" of any of them, leading off with Joachim Raff's delightful c minor concerto. This work, superbly played by the brilliant Michael Ponti, is a real find. It is a tuneful virtuoso romp, well orchestrated and full of fire works. I'll take this concerto over Grieg's hackneyed a minor any day. As the commercials used to say "but wait, there's more!" The set (devoted to the efforts of Liszt pupils and associates) also has wonderful concerti by Eugene D'Albert, Bernard Stavenhagen, Hans Von Bronsart, Mihaly Mosanyi, as well as Liszt himself (the early Malediction for Piano and Strings). Any piece on these CDs sounds like Beethoven compared to anything by a no talent hack like Elliott Carter! These CDs are highly recommended, especially at this price."
David Arenson | 09/19/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Other than the Liszt and the Raff, the other concertos on this compilation are mostly of historic interest, ranging in aesthetic value from mediocre to pretty poor--the Mosonyi especially seems to give one an idea of what a composer of limited talent and awareness would produce back in the depths of the 19C.--BUT the Raff Concerto is brilliant-a bit slick,but enormous fun. It is like a Germanic, somewhat finer Saint-Saens 2nd Piano Concerto. Ponti is absolutely scintillating--it is a wonder that he has not been asked to travel round the world concert halls engaging audiences with this highly entertaining concerto. The last movement is particularly irresistible. I would give this set 5 stars if it only contained the Raff and the Liszt!"
"Let`s talk about Liszt^s maldition. Ponti creates a dark atmosphere without making fireworks.
In Bronsart`s concerto the piano flies and evokes us a true landscape of caleidoscopic images. It`s played with conviction and majesty. The last movement like many endings of Brahms`works concludes with gipsy tunes. In the romantic tradition, austere and honest.
But Raff`s concert steals the show. What Ponti makes with these concert is melting with the score. The piano is played with such kind of histamina and also passion without loosing the "savoir vivre". It`s a jubilee a celebration of life. Absolutely radiant. And in the finale Ponti makes a statement of elegant bravura and happy resolution. Raff was undoubtly not only a virtuoso but a gentleman drowned by the nature`s love so representative of the pures romantic tradition. In this sense Raff seems anticipate the echoes of Debussy`s preludes. In fact, he was a Liszt`s pupil but creating and suggesting ; and that`s the clue who carries to the musical impressionism. Ponti , in this sense attacks the work having this concept in his mind.
Obviously, Raff is not at Schumann`s level, but that isn`t a sin. Raff altogether Mozart loves the life.
The orchestra an Mr. Ponti, that evening were absolutely convinced and engaged with this concert. The rapport is inusual.
The rest of the CD is worthy and you`ll be rewarded ever."