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Jusica Duchen
BBC Music Magazine, June 2015

This fifth volume of piano works by Brahms’s older contemporary Raff finds the excellent Nguyen playing with intelligence and devotion—especially the ambitious Grande Sonate. © 2015 BBC Music Magazine

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2015

During his lifetime, many commentators—that were held in high regard—gave preference to the music of Joachim Raff over the firebrand called Beethoven. They obviously preferred the comfort zone offered by Raff’s style, his prolific output in every genre including over 130 works for solo piano. Swiss by birth, his desire to become a composer originally led him into acute poverty, and he was turned forty before he made a breakthrough with his First Symphony. From then his standing rose to the point that it bordered on adulation, though looking back he stylistically never progressed, his works staying in the same period that followed immediately on from Schubert. With the Grande Sonate he had almost came to the end of his life, and, as if he wanted to make this a monumental outpouring, it is a score replete with grand gestures, particularly in the third movement. The result is a work that demands tremendous strength from the performer. In the finale Raff cannot resist a massive fugue that seems to have been written for three hands. Fifteen years earlier Blatter und Bluten, Zwolf Klavierstucke, represents the notion, that was popular at the time, that flowers are the emblems of human moods. He chose twelve leaves and blossoms of very differing characters and shapes them into four volumes. Though in no way directly derivative, we are here in the world of Schumann, with just a modicum of Liszt in the demands made on the performer. Maybe you will not leave the disc remembering a particular melody, but the work will surely have brought you much pleasure in the hearing. This is the fifth volume in Tra Nguyen’s traversal of Raff’s solo piano works, and she makes a very strong and passionate champion. © 2015 David’s Review Corner

Mark Thomas – The essential Raff reference, March 2015

Under Nguyen’s hands, the full panorama of Raff’s penultimate piano work (Sonata) is revealed. She is fully up to its technical requirements but, just as important, she has the emotional intelligence to bring out the tenderness, regret and wistful nostalgia which underlie all the surface brilliance. Nguyen’s way with the roller-coaster opening Allegro reconciles its alternating polyphony and homophonic passages without it ever sounding episodic. The transitions between the second movement’s quicksilver outer sections and its meltingly lyrical central passage are handled with delicate sensitivity. The slow movement, as so often with Raff, is the work’s centre of gravity. Nguyen magically brings out the atmosphere of dignified regret underpinning its strong melodic flow and succession of subtly varying textures. Her interpretation of the finale is satisfyingly restrained, the mood being one of catharsis, rather than of triumph. All in all, this is a highly satisfying and mature reading, which at last reveals Raff’s Sonata as a worthy conclusion to his catalogue for the instrument.

Nguyen’s interpretations of Raff are peerless. She inhabits the music. As this series has progressed, so has our indebtedness to her for shining a light on such an important part of Raff’s oeuvre. Unreservedly recommended. © 2015 – The essential Raff reference Read complete review

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