NIELS OTTO RAASTED: Solo Violin Sonatas = Op. 18: 1-3; Op. 30: 1-2 – Johannes Soe Hansen, violin – Dacapo multichannel SACD 6.220563, 66:21 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Copenhagen-born Niels Otto Raasted (1888-1966) initially was set on becoming a goldsmith, and to this profession he was apprenticed when he made a precipitous arrival at Wiesbaden in 1907. Here he turned his back on that profession and embraced that which he was attracted to at an early age—music. He took an organ diploma from the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 1912, and then went to Leipzig to study with Karl Straube and Max Reger.
He became a cathedral organist in Copenhagen, migrated to Odense, and then back to Copenhagen in 1924 until his retirement. Talent such as his was in great demand both as performer and teacher, and his devotion to Bach was evident from the earliest years, establishing a Bach society that lasted until 1945. As far as composing went, his rather vast output today is largely forgotten with the exception of some oft-played organ sonatas, and it is true that midstream he seemed to abandon much of the Regerian influence for a simpler and some might say anachronistic style (certainly these works here reflect that sentiment). In fact, these sonatas can easily be called “neo-baroque” with no loss of veracity. They are the most Bachian of any other sets of similar sonatas that I have ever heard, and what is most persuasive about them is that they are unapologetically in an archaic mode that is not afraid to directly compete with the music of Bach.
I know that this is a bold statement, but there are no modernisms or tricks up the composer’s sleeves to distance himself stylistically from the music of Bach. Oh, he does have his own modern language, but it’s so close to being authentic baroque that we are left no choice but to judge its quality in relationship to the genuine baroque article. So how does it hold up? Very well thank you. This is superb music that not only models itself on Bach but also steals various aspects from the master himself. When you hear this, assuming you know the Bach sonatas and partitas, you will find yourself saying, “I know that!”, so easily does Raasted incorporate the ways and means of Bach’s writing. His sonatas are not Bach of course—no one will ever come close to those masterpieces. But Raasted has something to say, something very important, and his music is highly intelligent, gloriously engaging and full of a baroque sensibility and fecundity that makes mentioning them in the same breath as Bach not so far-fetched.
Johannes Soe Hansen, leader of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, plays with a brilliant authority and intense understanding of this music, coupled with a tone that is rich and vibrant, perfected suited to this difficult music. The recorded sound is superb in every respect. If you have been lamenting that Bach only wrote six works in the genre, cheer up—help is here. This is one of the best albums I have heard this year.
— Steven Ritter