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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 [69.34]


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In Walde was the third of Raff’s eleven symphonies and dates from the decade or so after he had finally unshackled himself from his role in the circle of Franz Liszt in which he claimed inter alia, maybe with some justification, to have been responsible for orchestrating Prometheus and Tasso. In Walde was written in 1869 and is couched in four movements written in three parts – Part 2 is divided into two movements – each with a poetic superscription in echt Romantic tradition. Despite its explicitly programmatic affiliations and its exploration of that locus classicus of German Romanticism, the Forest, the work remains fundamentally enjoyable purely in strict symphonic terms.

This disc was first issued on Marco Polo 8.223321 in 1991 and is another in Naxos’s budget price reissues. For the recording the Slovak State Philharmonic was engaged, the principal orchestra in the east of the country, under Urs Schneider. He certainly takes a measured view of the opening Allegro and whilst it’s not without momentum it’s without ostensible drive. There are some admirable orchestral contributions – chirpy woodwind (in the best and most august Czech-Slovak tradition), saturnine bassoon, some fine lower strings. Even without the generation of vitesse Schneider does justice to the refinement and delicacy of much of the orchestration and to the frequently sharp rhythmic snap of the writing. The first movement of the second part, In der Dämmerung and Träumerei, receives eloquent address from orchestra and conductor. The firmly moving expression of the music is well conveyed even if there is ultimately here an ultimate want of real lyrical intensity. The Dance of the Dryads – which comprises that second part – is very reminiscent of the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the Dryads are certainly less clod-hopping than in the comparable Ghost’s Dance in the Tenth Symphony (see below) and they are accompanied by rustic flute chirrups and much woodwind chatter. Especially admirable is the impressive bassoonist’s delightful line and the long breathed string melody. The finale (At Night) is dramatic, trumpet punctuated and driving, full of hunting allegory and mythological allusion but I’m afraid there seems to be a large cut here, not noted in the booklet. The wrong tracking is a more minor problem - there are eight tracks listed but only seven play thus conflating the Dryad’s Dance and Finale and confusing everything but this is a relatively minor matter. The excision is serious.

The Tenth Symphony was written a decade later in 1879, subtitled In Autumn. Scheider takes the opening of the four movements at a good swinging Allegro moderato, with nice orchestral attacks and emphases, the winds verdant and a real sense of autumnal anticipation. In the Ghost’s Dance the billowing double basses announce the appearance of the spectres – which at this moderate tempo are more benevolent and sleepy than malevolent and saturnalian. The heart of the Tenth is the beautiful Elegie-Adagio. It unfolds here with eloquent expressivity, with simplicity and with direction, the rise and fall of the lyric line handled with significant intensity and skill by Schneider and the orchestra responding with more than usual delicacy. Die Jagd announces a hunting finale – horns and chase punctuated by moments of relaxation and reflectiveness in the affectionate second subject. The oboist laces an exquisite solo followed by flute tracery before the hunt collects itself once more and drives away to a dynamic conclusion.

I’m not quite sure where this leaves us. I enjoyed the disc very much but the cut in the finale of the Third is a real problem (and I don’t think it was necessary to fit the symphonies on one disc, I rather think it was made for structural reasons by Schneider). If you can live with it, fine; if not look elsewhere, but I’d certainly recommend the Tenth. There’s some slight congestion and a rather backward sound picture generally when it comes to recording quality but that’s not problematical. Over to you.

Jonathan Woolf

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