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Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
String Quartet No. 6 in C minor, ‘Suite in older form’ Op.192/a (1874) [31:20]
String Quartet No. 7 in D major, ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ (‘The beautiful maid of the mill’) Op.192/b (1874) [32:20]
Mannheim String Quartet
Recorded at the Hans Rosbaud-studio, Baden Baden, SWR, March 18-20, 2003 DDD
String Quartets Vol. 1
CPO 777 003-2 [63:54]


A quick glance at the amount of compositions that the Swiss born composer Raff wrote, displays just how prolific a composer he was. Raff wrote over three hundred works, almost half of which were solo piano pieces mainly intended for the salon. Virtually all the opus numbers prior to the Symphony No. 1 in D To the Fatherland op.96 in 1863 were for solo piano. His relative popularity in part of the second half of the nineteenth century waned considerably and very little of his music was played for the next hundred years. The subsequent obscurity of Raff’s music remains unmerited. His distinctive music, as displayed on this CPO release, is of the highest quality. Thankfully, enterprising record labels such as CPO, Marco Polo, AK Coburg and Tudor are making considerable inroads to make Raff’s music available to a wider audience.

The catalogue of Raff’s works after 1856, when he departed the coterie of Franz Liszt in Vienna for the relative calm of Wiesbaden, reveals a classicistic return to time-honoured, formal and serious concepts as far as his choice of genre is concerned. Although Raff had composed the first of his eight string quartets while still in Vienna, most of his symphonies, his concertos and the remaining chamber music that ranged from the Duo to the Octet, were composed in Wiesbaden.

At the beginning of the 1870s Raff numbered among those composers whose works were most often performed in German-speaking countries. Raff admirably satisfied the public demand of the times and promptly published one work after another. Most notably:-
Italian Suite for large orchestra in E minor WoO.36 (1871);
Violin Concerto No. 1 (1871);
String Octet in C major op.176 (1872);
String Sextet in G minor op.178 (1872);
Symphony No.5 in E ‘Lenore’ op.177 (1872);
Piano Concerto in C minor op.185 (1873);
Cello Concerto No.1 in D minor op.193 (1874);
Suite No.2 in F ‘In Hungarian Style’ for large orchestra op.194 (1874);
String Quartet No. 7 in D major ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’ Op. 192/b (1876);
Violin Concerto No.2 op.206;
Symphony No.11 in A minor ‘The Winter’ op.214 (1876-77);
Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘In Summer’ op.208 (1878);
Symphony No.10 in F minor ‘To the Autumn’ op.213 (1879)
Oratorio: ‘World’s End-Judgement-New World’ op.212 (1880).

The two string quartets contained in this CPO release form part of a set of three with the opus number 192, composed in 1874. At the time of publication all three provoked criticism for their retrospective associations with the baroque-suite; a form that Raff frequently used.

The baroque-inspired String Quartet No.6 in C minor, Op.192/a, is given the additional title of ‘Suite in older form’. In the five movement format: Präludium - menuett - gavotte and musette - arie - gigue, the work is given an enthusiastic reading by the Mannheim Quartet. It is easy to get swept along with the proceedings and wonder why it is that Raff has been ignored for so long. This is an impressive performance right from the start of the deeply-felt section of the opening prelude to the lively and imaginative gigue that concludes the score. The melodic and heartfelt nature of the arie movement is especially well conveyed by the leader Andreas Krecher.

The six movement String Quartet No.7 in D major, ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ (‘The beautiful maid of the mill’) Op.192/b, apart from using the same title Schubert used in his famous 1823 song cycle there is no other connection. The Mannheimers generate plenty of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the score. They offer an appropriate measure of melancholy in the Die Müllerin, andante and particularly glorious playing in the Zum Polterabend final movement.

The sound quality is most acceptable, however the booklet notes are rather technical at times with several errors. Lovers of the string quartet genre will be in their element with this release. Really fine playing and performances with commendable spirit, without ever pushing too hard. A welcome addition to any serious chamber music collection.

Michael Cookson


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