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De Raaff: Orchestral Works / Eötvös, Benjamin, Et Al

Release Date: 05/29/2007 
Label:  Etcetera Records   Catalog #: 1309   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robin de Raaff
Performer:  Ralph van Raat
Conductor:  Ed SpanjaardPeter EötvösGeorge Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw OrchestraNetherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DE RAAFF Unisono. 1 Piano Concerto. 2 Concerto for Orchestra 3 Ed Spanjaard, cond; 1 Peter Eotvos, cond; 2 George Benjamin, cond; 3 Ralph van Raat (pn); 2 Royal Concertgebouw O; 1,3 Read more class="ARIAL12"> Radio CO 2 ET’CETERA 1309 (69:49) Live: Amsterdam 12/17/2004; 1 2/21/2003; 2 Utrecht 12/12/2004 2

Robin de Raaff (b. 1968) is a widely admired Dutch composer. He studied with Geert van Keulen and Theo Loevendie in Amsterdam and with George Benjamin in London. He was the Tanglewood senior fellow in 2000, and the Tanglewood Music Center commissioned this Piano Concerto, which it premiered in 2001. De Raaff’s string quartet “Athomas” (1993) has been praised by Boulez, and he has written an opera RAAFF, not about himself (oh, no?) but about the tenor for whom Mozart wrote Idomeneo . In August 2007 the Boston Symphony premiered his Entangled Tales , recalling Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales as well the BSO’s summer home. De Raaff currently teaches composition and orchestration at the Rotterdam Conservatory.

That last is especially revealing, as de Raaff’s orchestrations are spectacularly sumptuous. His music leans on long, slowly evolving chords (although nothing as long or slow as the evolution of chords in early minimalist works). Although there are rapid passages and slow passages, sometimes wound within each other, rhythm plays a comparatively minor role. In the Piano Concerto, the solo instrument seems as stroked as it is struck, often playing lengthy ostinatos which are varied slightly over time. De Raaff’s vaguely French harmonies are not traditional, but they should raise the hackles of only the most doggedly conservative listener—less so, say, than Messiaen. A typical de Raaff trick is to have a trombone peel off in descending pitch, like a fighter plane from a formation, while a full-orchestral chord continues. In Unisono , this becomes almost a structural element of the music. His orchestral sound is wildly colorful, but his use of the top registers of piccolos and oboes can be on the pungent side, even when played by the suave Concertgebouw in its acoustically lush hall. The bottom of the orchestra is often featured, too: huge, growling chords loaded with double basses, contra-bassoon, and bass (perhaps even double-bass) clarinet, all punctuated by timpani and bass drum. A large modern percussion section stands ready but is employed sparingly and with taste. De Raaff’s surfaces are so brilliant that one wonders if they may obscure the substance of his music: are they keeping us from understanding what he is trying to say, or are they perhaps covering up a lack of content? We all have to decide for ourselves, but you should have a happy wallow doing so.

Both orchestras play gloriously; with this music it could hardly seem otherwise. This CD is a typical Dutch production, with superb recorded sound. The program notes consist of some of the wildest bushwah it has ever been my misfortune to read, European faux-intellectual techno-gobbledygook that says nothing in a thousand words. I hope de Raaff doesn’t read it, as it might totally mess up his composing. As I read it, he relies on a carefully developed, rigid system to compose his music, but that system changes with every work. Theodor Adorno is moaning in his grave: “Oh! How I wish I had written that.”

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Unisono by Robin de Raaff
Conductor:  Ed Spanjaard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Netherlands 
Date of Recording: 12/17/2004 
Venue:  Live Amsterdam, Netherlands 
Concerto for Piano by Robin de Raaff
Performer:  Ralph van Raat (Piano)
Conductor:  Peter Eötvös
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Netherlands 
Date of Recording: 2/21/2003 
Venue:  Live Amsterdam, Netherlands 
Concerto for Orchestra by Robin de Raaff
Conductor:  George Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Netherlands 
Date of Recording: 12/12/2004 
Venue:  Live Utrecht, Netherlands 

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