Rightly or wrongly
I tend to bracket Raff with Rubinstein.
Anton Rubinstein's Ocean Symphony
is a tableaux symphony-suite rather
than a cogently argued sonata-form.
The mood range is limited, emotions
are held within a check provided by
the straitjacket of charm. Nothing wrong
with that. Raff's symphonies are in
much the same bracket. He lacks the
level of symphonic argument we find
in Wetz or Rott or Draeseke. His line
is Mendelssohnian-illustrative but without
Mendelssohn's overwhelming inspiration.
Think in terms of the Scottish Symphony
or The Italian, of Goldmark's
Rustic Wedding, of the Bizet
Symphony in C minor and of the orchestral
suites of Ludolf Nielsen. Raff is not
another Bruckner or Beethoven.
The Eighth Symphony
a Brucknerian open-air manner as in
the Romantic Symphony with a
strong tendency towards Beethovenian
whirlwind. Honours are pretty evenly
divided between Lehel (on the Tudor
label) and Albert. While I noted roughnesses
in the Lehel the Raff spirit was there
in fidelity. Albert benefits from a
very clean sound and immediate sound
- more so than on the Tudor discs. While
we may not have been expecting great
things from a radio studio the sound
here is extremely healthy and open throughout
the set without being spectacular.
The Ninth Im
Sommer is a leisurely expansive
canvas with much waldweben delight.
The woodwind dance and caper recalling
Bruckner's Fourth, Smetana's Ma Vlast
and Mendelssohn's Scottish.
There are even presentiments of Glazunov's
The Seasons and, in the third
movement, of Dvořák's
New World. The finale
opts for a calming hymnal with a Schumann-like
lilt (tr. 4, 00:38) ending in a summer
The Tenth Symphony
Zur Herbstzeit is about the
same length as its successor. The first
movement is rather conventional. The
gruffly rhythmic - lilting at 1:17 like
a Dvořák Slavonic Dance
more aptly a Dvořák Legend.
The third movement is marked Elegie
and is as relaxed as the slow movement
of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 Winter
Daydreams. The finale echoes with
hunting horn formations pointing towards
the finale of Mendelssohn's Scottish
and Schumann's own Spring Symphony.
The Eleventh Der
a lurch again towards Dvořák though
without the Bohemian's taut élan - at
least not in this performance. The third
movement Larghetto combines
the flavour of Schumann's Second and
Fourth Symphonies. The finale is a Karneval
full of chugging expectation and
the atmosphere of a Brahmsian Easter
festival ending in exultation and some
genuinely joyful Beethovenian stomping.
These four works have
been recorded before. The Radio-Sinfonieorchester
Basel spread them across four Tudor
CDs during the late 1980s. There was
a different conductor for each: 8: György
Lehel; 9. Matthias Bamert; 10. Francis
Travis; 11. Mario Venzago (whose recordings
of Othmar Schoeck's operas Venus
(MGB) and Penthesilea (Pan
Classics) are classics of the catalogue).
Even if you can find
them the Tudor discs are an expensive
way of covering the four Raff symphonies
- one per disc. As compensation, in
each case there is a rare Raff work
to be heard but the symphonies are the
main focus of interest. The details
are as follows:-
Symphony No. 8; Ode
to Spring - TUDOR 784
Symphony No. 9; Piano
Concerto - TUDOR 785
Symphony No. 10; Overture
- Eine feste burg ist unser Gott
- TUDOR 786
Symphony No. 11; Sinfonietta
- TUDOR 787
There are also some
Marco Polo recordings but I have not
You must also visit
Raff Society website (a model of
what such a site should be and including
some six hours of real audio of Raff's
music) at www.raff.org as well as the
single page site www.newww.com/org/nco/joachimraff.htm.
Do not forget our own David Wright's
brief sketch at www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/july02/raff_profile.htm
Meantime here are four
big ambitious ‘picture’ symphonies that
warrant our attention for their lucid
charm, their skill and their exciting
romance. Masterworks? Maybe not but
the musical world should have room for
such entertainment alongside that of
Goldmark, Smetana, Rubinstein, Godowsky
and their numerous like.
NOTE FROM RICHARD
to your review of the Raff Symphonies
8-11, the Marco Polo recordings you
mentioned couple each of these symphonies
with an earlier one, making a much better
playing time than the Tudor CDs.
the whole Marco Polo series except the
fifth, and have been more than happy
with them as performances.
worth noting that Nos 3 and 10 are available
on Naxos, although it seems doubtful
that there will be further re-releases.
I also have a distant memory of separate
CDs of Nos 8 and 9 on Ex Libris, conducted,
I think, by Peter Maag.