The first in-depth and fantastic review has appeared on-line at Music Web International.
USA - Fanfare Magazine - which styles itself as "the world's finest classical CD review magazine".
This article/review originally appeared in Issue 45:3 (Jan/Feb 2022) of Fanfare Magazine.
BOISSIER Glamour Concerto.1 Piano Sonata No. 2. Philip Marlowe Concerto2 • Valentina Seferinova (pn); 1, 2John McLaughlin Williams, cond; 1, 2Ukrainian Festival Orchestra • TOCCATA 0569 (69:31)
I put in a special request with our esteemed editor to review this disc, despite the fact that I had never previously heard of its composer, Corentin Boissier. Rather, I’d noticed in Toccata’s monthly email announcing new releases that a friend of mine, John McLaughlin Williams, was conducting the works herein. So you have my disclosure on this one. However, I had gained great appreciation for Williams’s conducting skills (and those as a violinist and composer), as well as his promotion of lesser-known composers (such as Henry Hadley) before I actually met him in person a few years ago. Another personal connection in this release comes in the fact that the program notes were written by my distinguished former colleague at Fanfare, Walter Simmons. French composer Boissier (b. 1995) is surely one of the youngest composers ever to appear on Toccata Classics, but proprietor Martin Anderson doesn’t seem to pay any attention to any particular aspect of a composer other than the quality of the music he or she writes.
Boissier grew up on the outskirts of Paris in a music-loving family, who exposed him to an hour’s worth of classical music each day from the age of two. As a young child, he invented his own titles for the pieces of music he was hearing. The introduction to Also sprach Zarathustra, for instance, became “Saturn Rocket Lift-Off” to the boy. At age six, Boissier began composing, again with the encouragement of his parents, and his work was accomplished enough by the time he was nine that he was taken under the wing of French composer-organist Thierry Escaich, who later became his teacher during his studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. It was from this institution that Boissier obtained a Master’s in music composition in 2019 and another one in orchestration in 2021.
The CD in hand introduces him to us in two piano concertos and one sonata, opening with the Glamour Concerto written in 2012 and orchestrated in 2016. From the opening measures of this lushly Romantic work one realizes several things. First, Boissier is certainly a talented composer, one who handles both the orchestra and solo piano exceptionally well. He has well-crafted musical themes that linger in the memory, and a rich palette of harmonies of which he has full command. His orchestration is secure and masterful. His compositional aesthetic is well-considered and -defined (and his essay on it is included in the booklet). Another important thing to note is that he has modeled his style on the piano concertos of Hollywood films from the 1940s (and, indeed, wrote his master’s thesis on that very subject). The Glamour Concerto is strongly reminiscent of such works as Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Waxman’s Rhapsody, and Leith Stevens’s Piano Concerto, each of which became more famous than the films in which they appeared.
Boissier’s Glamour Concerto, however, was not written in the context of a film, but in it he seeks to portray a love story of a young man and woman meeting in New York, and indeed, I can well imagine the music fitting in extremely well into a film. Of course, the first question that must be asked in works of this type is whether they can be shorn of their visual context and still remain valid musical statements. Addinsell, Rózsa, and others wrote works that transcend film, and I believe Boissier has done so as well, although of course, as of yet, there is no film connection. I have no doubt that some high-brow listeners might pooh-pooh these works because of their immediate popular appeal. However, as someone who sometimes writes backward-looking music myself, I will not castigate anyone who chooses to write in an idiom in which he feels there is more valid music to be written. This concerto is good enough to warrant a place on a Boston or Cincinnati Pops concert and may well be accorded that honor sooner or later. Getting a performance on a concert by the Boston Symphony proper may take a while longer—even Gershwin’s American in Paris was not presented by the BSO until 1995, if I recall correctly.
Nestled in between the two concertos is the Piano Sonata No. 2, “Appassionata,” by the 20-year-old composer. I suppose given the fact that around 210 years had elapsed since Beethoven wrote the work that came to be known with the same subtitle (which was appended by a publisher years after his death), Boissier might be excused for appropriating the subtitle for his own work. It’s certainly passionate enough and has many beautiful passages. I am a good bit less convinced, however, that this work will achieve any kind of prominence in the piano sonata repertory. There are two reasons for my hesitation: First of all, the competition in the Romantic piano literature for sonatas, including many great masterpieces, is dozens of times stiffer than it is for Hollywood-inspired, Rachmaninoff-influenced piano concertos. My second reason is even more important than the first: I do not hear much evidence of sonata or other formal structure anywhere in the work. The composer, in fact, describes the first movement as a fantasia, but I will observe the great sonatas of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, et al., are great not only because of their masterful musical ideas, but also because of the way the various component parts fit together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is missing in this work, which often sounds simply like a series of nice musical ideas strung together, but which really have little to do with each other. I hesitate to give unsolicited advice to composers, whether young or old, but as long as he is going to write using standard harmonies, Boissier would do well to discipline himself by composing some works in the standard forms. His gifts are evident, but observing formal structure is one of the greatest tools a composer has at his disposal to aid him in his goal of writing enduring music.
The Philip Marlowe Concerto is composed very much along the lines of the Glamour Concerto, but despite being more distinctive in its orchestration (including effective use of chimes in the first movement), in the variety of articulation in the solo piano part, and its use of more mysterious-sounding harmonies, it also evidences flaws not found in the companion concerto. The primary one is a lack of cohesiveness, especially in the final movement. Although this concluding movement is the shortest on the disc, its lack of sufficient variety in its musical ideas makes it seem too long and repetitious, and it doesn’t go anywhere. All that said, this concerto does have its charms, and I don’t want to ignore that important consideration.
Valentina Seferinova is a superb pianist, playing with precision and musicality, and drawing out every nuance of Romantic fervor that Boissier has put into these three works. Conductor John McLaughlin Williams perfectly captures the Hollywood essence and passion of these works, and creates a magical experience for the listener. The Ukrainian Festival Orchestra (new to my ken) is up to every challenge thrown its way by this young French composer, giving these works the best possible introduction to the music-loving world. I strongly suspect that the reader will well know by this point if this disc is of interest, and I can heartily recommend it to those inclined to the kind of music I’ve described herein.
David DeBoor Canfield
Review in Polish Newspaper/Journal 'Nasz Dziennik'.
He was born in 1859 in Lazach, Siedlec.As a teenager, he began studying at the Warsaw Institute of Music, where his piano teacher was Rudolph Strobl, and the secrets of harmony and counterpoint were studied with Stanislas Moniuszko and Wladystawa Żeleński. After graduating from the Institute in 1876 he started his concert and teaching career. In 1880, he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with the excellent pianist, and founder of the university - Nicholas Rubinstein. After the death of his teacher Pachulski had a year of year of interrupted studies, but in 1881 continued them with Paul Pabst.
Pachulski's music is characterised by epic style and lyricism, melodiousness, verses, slush, rarely - drama, as well as the returning elements of dance and specific playfulness. On the disc are four hands Suite Op. 13, Meditation Op. 25, the development of the String Quartet op.11 Arensky; Fantasy for Two Pianos Op. 17 and Polonaise Op.5.
Valentina Seferinova and Venera Bojkova are from Bulgariaand finished at the Music Academy in Sofia. They both live seperately in the UK, playing solo and performing duets. They play, record, and promote Polish music. The name 'Va i Ve' comes from the first syllables of their names. Their performances combine class and precision of great artistes.
Their record is a masterly realisation. The combination of excellence and quality, which can reach the most prominent artists. The duo are perfectly timed and in understand each other perfectly. Their distinct sound is both expressive and clear, filled with energy. They are no strangers to lyrical and melodious phrases.
The record is perfect for a long winter evening.
I recommend. Enjoy!"
See Page 22 of the .pdf below
On-Line review at
Henryk PACHULSKI (1859-1921)
‘Leading Label Promoting Polish Music & Musicians’ is how Acte Préalable describes itself, and certainly its extensive cataloguefeatures a lot of music either by composers perhaps best known only within the country itself, or less familiar repertoire by names with whom the CD-buying public is already somewhat better acquainted.
"My musical education continues apace thanks to my work with MusicWeb International. Every new list of CDs to review includes works by composers unknown to me. This month is no exception. I am always tempted to select such discs as the discoveries are invariably surprising as well as delightful. With this, the third disc I’ve tackled today, I’m already on my fourth newly-discovered composer and there are two more unknowns still in the “pipeline”!
The Polish record company Acte Préalable sports a subtitle “leading label promoting Polish music and musicians”. It fully earns that watch phrase with its continued mission to delve into the recesses of Polish music to reveal the hidden gems that have been unjustifiably forgotten. This disc is a case in point since the name of Rózycki all but disappeared following his death, as recently as 1953 and all the music on this disc are world première recordings. This is really hard to understand when you read that his Pan Twardowski, Poland’s first large-scale ballet to be performed abroad, was given no fewer than 800 performances in Warsaw. This seems a real pity once you hear the music and it serves to underline the huge value that Acte Préalable is delivering to the world of music with such releases.
The son of a father who was both a pianist and teacher Rózycki was fortunate to grow up in a household steeped in music and which often welcomed into it the leading composers of the day, such as Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Zygmunt Noskowski - another composer whose music is to be found on this label. It was Noskowski who became his composition teacher when he went to the Warsaw Conservatory, from which he left in 1904 as a gold medal winning graduate.
It was Brahms who confessed how difficult it was to write anything when the shadow of Beethoven seemed to loom so large and any writer of piano music, especially a Polish one, must to some extent feel the weight of Chopin’s legacy bearing down upon them. In fact it would be a surprise not to hear some echoes of the influence of Chopin in the work of such a composer and so it is with Rózycki but that’s where it ends for his piano music is also marked by originality.
Along with the composers Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, Karol Szymanowski and Grzegorz Fitelberg, Rózicki was a founder member of the Mloda Polska (Young Poland) movement. Its self-proclaimed mission was to re-invigorate music in Poland and re-establish its own original voice free from outside influences. The more of his piano music you hear the more difficult it is to understand how it can have been ignored for so long and you find yourself pitying those generations who may have missed out on hearing it.
Characterised by the most ravishingly delicious melodies this disc has been a joy to hear. Spanning the period from the early years of the twentieth century to the late 1920s Rózycki’s music is unashamedly romantic though with plenty of evidence of expressionism. There’s also a debt to the impressionism of composers such as Debussy. It imbues the music with splashes of colour that help make it irresistible. It has a mix of sweeping grandeur and a gentle romance that is highly attractive.
All of this is in evidence throughout the first work on the disc, his Balladyna that dates from 1909 when it was composed in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). By turns calm and stormy this composition is a mature work that will have listeners knit their brows in disbelief that such music can have remained so obscure for so long. Rózycki’s powerful ability to paint pictures in music is again ably demonstrated with the next piece, Le Rossignol, a highly effective representation of the nightingale complete with beating wings and nocturnal singing. Dating from 1906 his Im Spiel der Wellen/Play of the Waves drew its inspiration from a trip on the Baltic and a painting by the Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin, whose painting Isle of the Dead inspired Rachmaninov to compose his work of the same name. Just as Debussy’s La Mer perfectly evokes the sea in all its majesty Rózycki’s eight and a half minute piece describes the waves in various moods from gentle lapping to thunderous crashing. In addition it includes a description of the mythical creatures of the deep and the flirtation of two lovers. It is worth noting that this was composed at the time he had met his one true love Stefania Mlawska. Shades of Scriabin are apparent in Rózycki’s Four Impromptus that he wrote in 1904. This was around the time he left the Conservatory. He dedicated them to Stefania soon after their wedding. As with Scriabin’s works these pieces are overtly romantic and despite the few darker moments there is a dreamlike quality about them that is immediately appealing. This is particularly true in the third of the set which is especially magical. His Four Intermezzi come next. The first of these features a really dreamy melody in the unusual metre of 12/8. The second is immediately reminiscent of Chopin marked Tanz intermezzo and it dances delightfully for an all too brief period of under two minutes. The third of the set is striking for its rippling, slightly anxious nature while the last is full of beautifully lively undulating rhythms. During a stay in Zakopane, his first visit to the Tatras he was struck by their majesty and by grandeur of the landscape. He was inspired to compose his Trois Morceaux. Staying in a villa at the invitation of the artistic Witkiewicz family at the same time as the composer Karlowicz and three others - it must have been some villa - he dedicated the third of them, Poème to Maria Witkiewicz “in memory of musical evenings in the year 1905”. All three of them are little gems full of evocations of the beauty of the countryside and are simple in the best sense of the word. The finally we hear the Fantasiestücke that he wrote around 1919. These confirm his love of symbolism which permeates these pieces. They are colourful in the best Debussian tradition of painting in music. Each shows his maturity - charming works of beautiful simplicity. The opening of the second is a particular example of this with its tinkling sounds which are so gently restful despite its generally melancholic nature. The third is quite a contrast with a playfully truculent air. The penultimate piece is a lullaby with a wonderfully sublime and fanciful quality. The very last signs things off in a strongly stated way that exemplifies this composer’s enviable ability to create miniatures of clarity, grace and exceptional beauty.
Thus ends another musical voyage of discovery. I’m looking forward to another disc of his music. It contains chamber works with piano and again is from the most enterprising and valuable Acte Préalable.
The present disc is played by Bulgarian pianist Valentina Seferinova. She is highly thought of by the label’s producer Jan Jarnicki and with good reason for she has made a convincing argument for this unjustly neglected composer. Acte Préalable has used her previously for a disc of piano music by Zygmunt Noskowski.
This is a disc to enjoy and it proves yet again that there is so much wonderful music to be heard outside (the) charmed circle established around the biggest names. It is a real joy to have that lesson made in such a compelling and authoritative way. I eagerly await further volumes of Rózycki’s piano music."
See review as published at Music Web International April 2013
6th February 2017 :-
Just received an email from a Dr. Professor of Music at Kansas State University, KS 66506, USA concerning an earlier 2011 CD of mine : I quote :-
"Dear Ms. Seferinova,
Your Rozycki CD is absolutely superb!
You are a wonderfully gifted pianist.
(name left blank here to protect his privacy)"
Received this unsolicited message from a colleague who had an early copy of my recently released CD number 12:-
Me ? Speechless and overcome !
Just been notified of a very favourable French website review of my CD No. 12 - recorded in Warsaw in June of last year.
Scroll down until you see 'Ludomir Róźycki - Piano Works 2' CD image.
I've translated each paragraph as follows (and am very happy with the final sentence !! :) :) )
Voici une nouvelle réalisation en première mondiale à l’actif du Label polonais ACTE PRÉALABLE et de son dynamique directeur Jan A. Jarnicki. C’est au tour du compositeur Ludomir ROZYCKI, né à Varsovie en 1883 et mort à Katowice en 1953, membre — comme, par exemple, Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) — du mouvement artistique « Jeune Pologne » promouvant également l’art national, bien que manifestement influencé par l’impressionnisme français. Si son talent a joué à plein dans le domaine du poème symphonique, le volume 2 continue à exhumer son vaste corpus pianistique.
|"Though once a musician as renowned as his elder brother, violinist Henryk, Józef Wieniawski's star waned after his death. By contrast Henryk's works continue to be performed by virtuosos to this day. Yet New Grove describes him as "far more versatile [a composer] than his brother".
The present recording is Acte Préalable's second disc to date of piano works, billed, like the first (AP 0184), as 'world premieres'. It is another welcome step towards re-illumination of the considerable talent of a pianist-composer thought to have been the first to play in public the complete Etudes of Chopin and who once shared the concert stage with Liszt.
One work that it is easy to imagine Wieniawski performing with that illustrious company is the bill-heading and substantial Fantaisie for two pianos, a "neo-Romantic piece par excellence", according to the booklet notes (but why 'neo-'?). Lively, entertaining and of course virtuosic – though not uncouthly so - it offers listeners an immediate all-in-one assessment of the strengths of the disc's recitalists, the England-based Bulgarian pianists Valentina Seferinova and Venera Bojkova, performing on this track and the last as the Va i Ve Duo.
The remaining items of their programme are considerably shorter. No composition or publication dates are provided for any of these works, but it may be that they are not known – certainly New Grove offers no enlightenment. Whilst some pieces are, frankly, more pleasant than interesting – the Valse de Concert op.3, Valse de Salon op.7 and Reverie op.45/1 fall easily into this category – the rest qualify as elegant occasional works from the Chopin lineage. Besides the op.42 duo, the Nocturne op.37 and the Fantasy and Fugue op.25 are stand-out pieces, both occupying twilit emotional spaces, with the two Tarantellas catering for sunnier unbuttoning. Seferinova and Bojkova, democratically alternating pieces, make the most of even the slighter scores, tackling them all with flair and communicating a strong sense of fun.
Acte Préalable's recording is generally good – the microphones could have done with being just a little closer for more clarity. Both the Valse-Caprice and the Tarantelle op.4 are minimally marred by a light knocking sound from the piano action at certain points. Maryla Renat's notes are highly informative: a good dense paragraph for each piece of music, not to mention a sizeable introductory biography of the composer. The English translation is impressively idiomatic.
In his preface to this recording, label owner Jan Jarnicki writes: "I always find it astonishing how my fellow countrymen have so quickly forgotten Jósef Wieniawski and his wonderful musical compositions". Yet he should not really be surprised, given that matters are, in truth, far worse. The only thing standing in the way of almost complete cultural amnesia – obliteration, indeed – with regard not only to Wieniawski, but to almost all his fellow composers, are rare figures like Jarnicki. Their dedication to art music in a global society populated in some respects by a 21st-century equivalent of Marcuse's 'One-Dimensional Man' – with its 'terror-free' pop culture totalitarianism - is what most realists would surely consider a lost cause.
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
|Full review at MusicWeb International|
"Yet another of the ever-burgeoning roster of rediscovered Polish compositional talent makes his ‘world premiere recording’ appearance on a label dedicated to just such an act of reclamation.
Noskowski was born in Warsaw and trained as a violinist before coming within the orbit of that pioneering spirit, Moniuszko with whom the fledgling composer studied singing and counterpoint. Feeling however that he lacked polish he went to Berlin to study composition. Eventually he returned to Warsaw where he became Professor of Composition as well as a choral and symphonic conductor of repute. Heart disease gradually curtailed his career and he died in 1909.
The first volume of Acte Préalable’s series devoted to him takes in his solo piano music. This, as well as songs and violin music - chamber music in toto in fact - is a particularly useful feature of this label’s exploratory work. None of these works are dated though I would guess that they come from the 1890s. The Impressions are character studies of some imaginative sweep. The first is a wind study called Autumn, with lots of arpeggios and then comes a rather salonised middle section; hints of late Liszt here. The terse outer sections of the second study enclose a puckish and rhythmically vivacious B section, whilst No.3 is a charming salon Dumka.
Of the 3 Pièces Op.35 it’s best to refer the first to the first of the Op.29 Impressions which it somewhat resembles in mood. It’s a song without words really, not really a nature picture. In the Duma there are hints of Chopin but also an individualistic Ballad strength which grows increasingly ripe. Though it’s marked dolente the Valse is actually quite fulsome in this performance by Valentina Seferinova, a Bulgarian pianist now resident in Britain.
These short collections show idiomatic skill and some striking moments. There’s slightly too much hectoring amidst the melancholy of the first of the Op.36 Moments mélodiques and the Gondoliera is a very straight ride indeed - abandon hopes of Reynaldo Hahn and sensuality. Still the third of the set is touchingly done before Noskowski reaches for another seasonal piece - Spring this time - to end the cycle; and it’s duly perky and fresh.
Contes must have been written almost immediately after the earlier cycle and reprises things. There’s lyric ease, a salon Berceau, and a gift for lyricism and charm, if without overmuch depth. The last cycle here is the Op.44 Feuille de trèfle. The first is quite tough and Seferinova sounds a little stretched by its demands (Oh NO I wasn’t!! – V.S.). The third and last alternates between Schubertian influence and possibly a touch of Anton Rubinstein.
All these cycles are presented in chronological order, but there’s no great marked stylistic advance - which is not a criticism, merely an observation. The performances are enjoyable and the presentation and recording in the studio of Polish Radio Station S1 not too chilly."
Jonathan Woolf Musicweb-International.com
"It is surprising that the Raff revival on disc has until now largely ignored his piano music, remembering that more than half his output was for the instrument. Now, however, we have a CD devoted to some of his most important piano works and a welcome arrival it is. New British label Cahoots and UK-based Bulgarian pianist Valentina Seferinova have chosen a programme which steers away from Raff's salon music and instead concentrates on his more "serious" side with the Fantasie-Sonate op.168 and the late second version of the Piano Sonata op.14. In rather more relaxed vein are the Trois Morceaux op.2 - another set whose early opus number belies the fact that they were written in 1876.
The fantasy side of op.168 is well brought out by Seferinova. She emphasises the improvisatory feel of the piece's start, presenting the opening Allegro patetico section almost as a series of musings on the motto theme which dominates the whole work. Her accuracy is ably demonstrated by the frantic figurations in which Raff indulges sporadically. The delicacy of the central Largo is a joy - there is something affectingly childlike in the simplicity of her treatment of these lovely variations, before the stormy concluding Allegro molto is ushered in by the last of them (a nice touch this by Raff). Perhaps Seferinova could have risked a more turbulent and Lisztian approach to this final section - one suspects that one should have been left with the impression of a "bigger" work than comes across here. Overall, though, this is an intelligent and poetic performance which grows on you with repeated listening. Her handling of the tempi in particular show what a good feel she has for the architecture of the whole three-section structure.
Sandwiched between the two sonatas are the Trois Morceaux. Lasting just over 12 minutes, they are not as portentous as the sonatas, but by no means mere salon music. The opening Elégie is a surprisingly lively and rather enigmatic piece which seems as if it is telling a story, unrevealed to us by Raff. Seferinova plays it beautifully, investing it with a tenderness and, at the last, a tangible sense of faint regret. The central Romance features one of those immediately attractive Raffian melodies which linger stubbornly in the memory. It has an engaging hesitancy which she carries over into the contrasting cantabile middle section so that it suffuses the whole piece. A delight. Once again, playing of immense charm and delicacy. The concluding Valse also begins uncertainly, but soon gets into its stride and here one is reminded of the many such works to which Raff turned his hand so effectively. There is more to it than there seems at first but even so Seferinova has it skip away seemingly without effort.
Coming after the rather skittish Valse, the austerity of the rewritten Piano Sonata is something of a shock. It is a rather more sombre and serious work than one is used to from the master and one wonders what would have followed had he lived. Its mood is set at the very beginning where the Allegro's principal theme is baldly stated and then elaborated in an almost baroque fashion. This seriousness is well conveyed by Seferinova and so her relaxing into the lyrical second subject is especially welcome. She makes light of the work's difficulties and the episodic sombreness and sometimes dense counterpoint are nicely contrasted with the more lyrical passages and intermittent silvery cascade of notes. A very satisfying interpretation of an atypical Raff movement.
The following Allegro molto is a relative disappointment. It would have benefited from a more hard driven approach to the fast outer sections and the rather spooky ending is somehow flat and doesn't leave one breathless with relief that the hectic ride is over. The movement's lyrical trio is a finely judged contrast, however.
In the Larghetto third movement, Seferinova shows that she understands that Raff slow movements aren't that slow. Although she revels in the long drawn out opening melody, she isn't afraid of piling on the drama in the central section and makes this (for Raff) uncharacteristically reserved slow movement a piece of stature and a worthy counterweight to the portentous opening Allegro.
The Allegro finale sees Raff in more familiar celebratory and open-hearted vein. A procession of generally joyful motifs are melded into successive passages full of joie de vivre. Raff cannot resist ample contrapuntal episodes and, of course, a fugue makes its expected appearance but there is nothing dry about it. Seferinova encompasses all this with an appropriate lightness of touch and brings this unusual work to a bright and emphatic end.
The recording itself can sound muddy at times, but the piano is well forward and a little judicious control twiddling will set matters straight. Matthias Wiegandt's liner notes are as impressive as we have come to expect from him and are especially helpful in discussing the Piano Sonata.
In sum, Valentina Seferinova demonstrates that she has Raff's measure. If she sometimes seems reluctant to pull out every last dramatic stop, she is undeniably impressive in the more lyrical passages and it is to be hoped that this issue is a success for Cahoots so that we can hear more Raff from her in the future. (out of 5)
Mark Thomas (of The Joachim Raff Society)
"Raff probably benefited from his own innate sense of single-mindedness as a composer and as a result managed during his life to steer a middle path through the Brahms or Wagner camps. More than half his 216 published works were written for piano, while some of the symphonies (Im Walde and Lenore in particular) are well worth an airing and appear on more adventurous CD labels if not yet in concert programmes. This enterprising CD by the Bulgarian pianist Valentina Seferinova, now UK based, provides an interesting insight into some of the piano pieces. Because Raff’s career dipped somewhat in the middle of his life in terms of his relationship with his publisher Breitkopf und Härtel, he revisited some of his early works towards the end of his life and reworked them; hence the date of 1877 against his Op.2 which actually appeared first in 1842. His first 46 works were piano pieces written between 1842 and 1849. During this time he received Mendelssohn’s invaluable endorsement to give him an entrée to the publishers. The three pieces Op.2 consist of a charming Romance framed by a ruminative Elégie and a Chopin-like Waltz. Likewise the Grand Sonata in E flat minor is the second version of a far earlier work belying the fact that it was his last piece for the piano, written when he was Director of the Frankfurt Music Conservatoire. Both works are recorded here for the first time. The Fantasie-Sonata in D minor was dedicated to Saint-Saëns in 1872 (perhaps a peace offering after the recently concluded Franco-Prussian war) and is a through-composed work despite its division into movements. Despite some unhelpful dryness in the recording studio, Valentina Seferinova makes a strong case for this largely forgotten repertoire, plays it with stylish finesse and clearly enjoys the music. The Larghetto of the Grand Sonata made a strong impression, beautifully paced and sensitively breathed in its subtle shapes, while the fugal Finale has impeccable clarity. Never a dull moment, one hopes that she and other pianists will delve further into this composer’s music if this sample is anything to go by."
Christopher Fifield - conductor - www.musicweb.uk.net
"This release introduces a new company and, I believe, the first recordings of three Raff piano works. Joachim Raff, who lived from 1822 to 1882, was one of the important Swiss composers of the 19th Century who faded into obscurity in the 20th Century but has recently begun to make a come-back. To learn more about Raff, see the Raff Society's web site at www.raff.org, which also has a complete listing of recordings and their reviews.
I must admit to being slightly put off by this recording at first, for there are very loud extraneous low-frequency noises that I concluded are the pedals being enthusiastically activated by Ms Seferinova. These are unfamiliar works, but she seems to have them in her grasp and really plays very well. The problem can be partly cured by cutting the bass response. Also, it is worst in the second sonata.
The Fantasy-Sonata was published as Op. 168 and is the second of three. It lasts about 17 minutes. The three movements may not have any truly memorable big themes but are very well written and full of exciting pianism.
The Sonata in E-flat may have been published as Op. 14 but he re-wrote it in 1881 and it became his last published piano work. It was almost completely re-written and little remains of the earlier work. It has four movements lasting some 32 minutes. It is technically adept and quite brilliant.
Much the same can be said for his three Morceaux, which were originally published as Op. 2 but were completely revised in 1877. They are pleasant morsels that require a refined piano technique.
Ms Seferinova has a grand technique and plays brilliantly. The recording is very wide range and well placed. The notes are excellent."
Carl Bauman - American Record Guide - May/June 2003 issue Vol.66 No.3
“Valentina Seferinova takes on a difficult task, making something exciting out of Joachim Raff's highly respectable but hardly compelling Fantasia-Sonata, Op.168, Grand Sonata Op.14, and Trois Morceaux, Op.2. She is a fluent pianist, and does a fine job, until the dreadful fugue that takes up most of the finale of Op.14. Like the listener, she seems to go on automatic pilot, coping with one academic entry of the theme after another - one of the reasons Raff, despite many attempts to resurrect his music, remains more a "name" than a living musical force.” www.recordsinternational.com
Paul Turok of Turok's Choice, NY, USA, Issue No. 147, September 2003
(comment by Valentina Seferinova - his opinion seems to be highly coloured by a dislike of Raff!!!)
THE CRITICS EXTRA
A true international performer
"The first CD devoted to solo piano music by Joachim Raff is also the first from a company set up by former Portsmouth theatre administrator Gareth Vaughan.
But the CD is the fruit of a long period of work on the 19th-century Swiss composer by Valentina Seferinova.
The Bulgarian pianist is married to a Briton, and has lived at Cowplain since 1998, taking an active part in the region's musical scene. But the CD confirms that she remains a true international performer.
She commands an impressive range of tone colours, even if the sound of the instrument as recorded is a little variable in quality. More importantly, she gets inside Raff's world.
She catches both aspects inherent in the title of the Fantasie-Sonata in D minor, and makes delightful and sometimes deeper miniatures of the Trois Morceaux, turning a phrase beautifully.
She also supplies the clarity of texture, line and rhythm needed to make the Grand Sonata in E flat minor something much more than a heavy, intellectual exercise.
It is no use pretending the composer is a neglected master on the level of a Liszt, to whom he comes closest in sound and style, but equally this CD proves Raff's music is worth hearing.
Ms Seferinova will play some of it in a free lunchtime recital at Chichester Cathedral on February 18th. (2003)"
The News, Portsmouth, Friday January 10, 2003
Amazon - Customer Review 1 (copied from Amazon)
"Joachim Raff (1822-1882) is an unduly neglected composer, perhaps not to be classed among the very great but nonetheless significant in his own right as a descendant of German classicism writing in the midst of 19th century romanticism. Raff's third and last piano sonata (1881) is a significant piece, well worth reviving. Seferinova plays with elegance and sensitivity. For this reviewer, this is the most satisfying performance of Raff's third sonata on record to date."
(4 out of 5 stars)
Amazon - Customer Review 2 (copied from Amazon)
"Joachim Raff was (and still is) one of the important composers of the 19thCentury; Wagner, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Saint-Saens amongst others, were his contemporaries.
Valentina Seferinova gets to grips with some long forgotten - and previously unrecorded, piano sonatas; together with his Trois Morceaux.
Fantasie-Sonata in D minor Op168 (written 1872) is a motif based work full of wonderful pianism. The Trois Morceaux Op2 (1877) are accomplished pieces requiring a certain understanding and technique. Similarly the Grand Sonate in E flat minor Op14 (2nd version 1881 - and one of his last piano works) is very well written.
Valentina Seferinova demonstrates that she has complete understanding and mastery of these pieces - and gives quite a musically stunning performance. She gives full credence to the renaissance that Joachim Raff's works are undergoing.
The recording is very good and piano well positioned; the notes by Raff expert Matthias Wiegandt are also excellent."
(5 out of 5 stars)
Just stumbled across some purchaser ‘real life’ reviews on Amazon of my first UK recorded CD back in 2002 – my ‘Joachim Raff’ CD which features the much viewed & commented on ‘Romance’ from his ‘ Trois Morceaux Op.2’ .
|Review which appeared in Rachmaninoff Society Newsletter July 2002|
"Another new CD is available to members from a member. The disc features Bulgarian duo Va i Ve, otherwise member Valentina Seferinova and (‘i’) compatriot Venera Bojkova. It was very interesting to hear the CD, especially knowing the background. I enjoyed it all ...... From the way the performances flow, it is clear that very little editing was necessary, thus preserving the continuity of the playing and the sense of occasion that the performers were after. Overall, to borrow a term I have heard applied to a Brahms recording by Glenn Gould, it left me feeling I had heard two good friends playing music together for their own enjoyment (which I guess is true!) and that I had been privileged to eavesdrop on it.
"Well - you would say that , wouldn't you!!"
"In Jadassohn’s Piano Concerto we are treated to a stormy attack. Heroic shrapnel flies every which way in repeated evocations of the Liszt and Schumann piano concertos. Valentina Seferinova is fully in charge and attacks the solo part with great romantic flourish. Her stonily commanding tone is unmistakable."
"Turning to his first piano concerto (1887), we have here a recording of a live performance done in 2008 [track-8], which was the first time this stunning work had been played in public since the composer's death! Consequently there's some extraneous audience noise, and those put off by it are referred to the studio recording recommended in the newsletter of 15 April 2009. But the playing here is a labor of love, and most listeners will probably want both versions. .....concerto soloist Valentina Seferinova (Jadassohn) is magnificent."
- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com)
" The opening concert selections feature committed performances by the Orion Symphony Orchestra under Toby Purser with pianist Valentina Seferinova in top form for the Howell.
The twenty-minute concerto is in a single movement [track-2] ostensibly consisting of three adjoining sections. The first one begins rhapsodically in the orchestra with a repeated heroic horn motif (HH) [00:03] that will dominate the work and serve to unify it. The piano then makes its entrance with a flashy cadenza, later receiving encouragement from the orchestra. The pace then briefly abates as soloist and tutti introduce a lighthearted episode. It alternates with reminders of the opening measures, and transitions via subdued piano passages into the central slow section [08:19].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found