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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Symphony No. 8 Op. 205 Frühlingsklänge (1876) [43:07]
Symphony No. 9 Op. 208 Im Sommer (1878) [41:11]
Symphony No. 10 Op. 213 Zur Herbstzeit (1879) [33:29]
Symphony No. 11 Der Winter Op. 214 (1879) [34:12]
Philharmonia Hungarica/Werner Andreas Albert
rec. Recklinghausen Festspielhaus, WDR, Koln, 19-23 Oct 1992 (8); 6-10 Dec 1993 (9); 28 Feb - 4 Mar 1994 (11); Köln, Stolberger Strasse, 27-30 Oct 1993 (10). DDD
CPO 999 536-2 [76:35 + 75:23]


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 Frühlingsklänge has 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 storm.

The Tenth Symphony Zur Herbstzeit is about the same length as its successor. The first movement is rather conventional. The second is gruffly rhythmic - lilting at 1:17 like a Dvořák Slavonic Dance or 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 Winter takes 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 heard these.

You must also visit the Joachim 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.

Rob Barnett

NOTE FROM RICHARD PENNYCUICK

Further 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.

I have the whole Marco Polo series except the fifth, and have been more than happy with them as performances.

It's 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.

Richard Pennycuick




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