Piano Quintet a minor, Op.107
Very few composers had turned their hand to writing a standard piano quintet (piano, 2 violins, viola and cello) before Joachim Raff (1822-1885) composed his in 1862. Raff wrote, "...the piano quintet is more difficult than a symphony or a string quartet and I understand very well why even Beethoven steered clear of it and why nothing more has been done in this genre since Schumann's single effort." Nonetheless, Raff succeeded in crafting a first class work which the famous pianist and critic Hans von Bülow called the best chamber music work since Beethoven.
From 1860 to 1900, the name of Joachim Raff was regularly mentioned in the same breath as Wagner, Liszt, and Brahms as one of Germany's leading composers. All of the critical commentaries which appeared during those years spoke of him as an equal to such masters as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. Incredibly, by the 1920's his music had all but disappeared from the concert stage. The reason was that Raff, for many years, was forced to crank out compositions for the commercial market (works that would sell but were of little intrinsic or artistic merit), one after another as fast as he could to feed his family. Sadly, this was later to tarnish his legacy and he came to be unjustly regarded merely as a composer of parlor pieces, despite the magnificent symphonic and chamber works he left behind.
The opening Allegro mosso assai begins in a mysterious and ominous fashion rising directly to dramatic climax before the introduction of a more lyrical but still dramatic second subject . A pulsing, hard-driving scherzo, Allegro vivace, quasi presto, is placed second. The second theme is exquisitely handled with the theme presented in the cello while the piano plays a crystalline, glittering accompaniment. The gorgeous trio section calms the troubled waters before the scherzo is reintroduced. (our sound-bite is of the scherzo recapitulation to the end which includes a brief restatement of the trio theme before the final notes). The third movement, Andante, quasi larghetto mosso, has a lovely long-lined melody for its main section with a highly dramatic and stormy middle section. The finale, Allegro brioso, pathetico, begins with a short cascading piano introduction before the strings bring forth the powerful main theme.
This is not only a historically important work but a very worthwhile addition to the piano quintet literature, deserving to be heard in the concert hall as well in the music rooms of amateurs. Out of print for over a century, we are proud to reintroduce this fine work.