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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Symphony No. 3 in F major Op. 153 In Walde (1869)
Symphony No. 10 in F minor Op. 213 Zur Herbstzeit (1879)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)/Urs Schneider
Recorded at the House of Arts, Košice, January 1990
NAXOS 8.555491 [70.07]


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This is a CD of warm, mellow, transparently clear, well-written music noted for its lasting attractiveness and class, impeccable craftsmanship, subtle orchestration, sound structure. This is music that is controlled and which also contains evocative and memorable melodies. This is, to quote an hackneyed phrase, music for music's sake; no ostentation. But perhaps that is the drawback and so there are reservations.

The seasonal link between these two symphonies will appear obvious (Raff’s symphonies 8 to 11 depict the four seasons). The Symphony no. 10 is the better work although the finale of number 3 is commendable. The Tenth Symphony is rich in pastoral shades of music. The opening had an infectious descending theme in a dotted rhythm that goes back to where it came from. The music is obviously programme music as the title for the movement is Impressions and Feelings. Of course, we do not know what his feelings were as conveyed in the music. However unacademic this comment is, the music is naive, pretty and innocent and you can sometimes feel the autumn in the air, the long shadows, and recall those autumnal times when the sunlight on your face is golden.

The Symphony no. 10 dates from 1879 when Raff was in Frankfurt. This is lovely music, mellow and expertly scored. And I still wonder what exactly was in Raff's mind and what pictures of rural life he is intending to conjure up. At the time he was working too hard (it was hard work that killed him) and I expect he missed the countryside. The second movement is called Ghost's Dance which is very controlled music but not sinister. Obviously these ghosts are friendly and mere wisps of vapour. The charm and elegance of the first movement is still here but the first indication of strength in the music comes briefly to the fore. In this performance the music is probably too controlled. Nothing is unleashed and Mendelssohn's ghost is there.

The third movement is a large adagio which some have suggested represents the fall of the year or the decline in the weather. To me, it sounds like Tchaikovsky ballet music. Tchaikovsky was the composer of grand light music and this lightness is in Raff's music but without the schmaltz. Raff's music is divertimento music, immensely attractive but, perhaps, superficial and lacking in dramatic contrast. To complete the Tchaikovsky comparison one can detect hints of the Russian's Symphony no. 5 but the Tchaikovsky was written a decade later. This slow movement is a little too long.

Perhaps Raff's music is sweet although it is not sickly. The finale of this symphony is mildly robust albeit somewhat predictable to depict this doubtful pastime. It is a jolly (at times) movement with the obligatory horns. Did Raff approve of, or enjoy hunting? The hunt is briefly introduced then disappears and it is later that we catch up with it and there is some excitement. But, alas, the music is still controlled and polished and I am sure huntsmen get muddy and sweaty!

The Symphony no. 3 is entitled In the Forest and is divided into three sections. The first is entitled By Day and also called Impressions and Feelings - as is the first movement of the Tenth. This is either dreary or lazy music depending on which way you hear it. It meanders rather than inspires. It is quite pleasant but needs more onward motion than this performance gives. It reaches few climaxes and the music is somewhat tame. But at 14 minutes this movement is too long. It is like driving along a straight flat road on a level plain. Although the sun is shining and it is pleasant day there is nothing else. I have heard Raff's music called snuggly music! Only when the movement is 12 minutes old does anything happen!

In fact Raff's music lacks tension and, therefore, to some extent, conviction. In an obscure way, Schubert is recalled. Schubert wrote pretty little tunes which he repeated over and over again and, often, that is all there is to Schubert. Perhaps Raff is a bit like that although his material and technique is vastly superior.

Part two is entitled Twilight and Dreaming which is uneventful music and the Dance of Dryads is a wisp of music. Part three is sometimes big and brash (Raff's style). I missed the stillness of night section ... how? The wild hunt was just that. At last, the music has real purpose and is expertly written with some wonderful orchestration. The music subsides into a portrayal of daybreak but there is some noble music as well. But I must stress it is noble music devoid of that awful British Edwardian pomposity.

There is a lot of dislike of programme music apparently because it puts a strain on the listener to try to decipher what this bit means and what that bit means. In addition, there are some charlatans who explain the meaning of some programme music. This is wildly accepted, as some scientists have wildly accepted another fraudulent ‘missing link’, only for the composer to come up and state something completely different. Just enjoy the music!

The recorded sound is excellent on this disc.

David Wright

‘See David Wright's essay on Raff on this website’

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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