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Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Die Tageszeiten, Konzertante in vier Satzen op. 209 [40:45];
Morgenlied op. 186a [6:11]
Einer Entschlafenden op. 186b [14:41]*
Die Sternen WoO53 [25:15]
Tra Nguyen (piano)
Josefin Wolving; Lena Nordlund, Lena Palmquist (soloists)*
Sngkraft Chamber Choir
The Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands Opera/Andrea Quinn
rec. Opera House, Umea, Sweden, 14-18 December 2009. DDD
STERLING CDS1089-2 [79:52]

Experience Classicsonline

From the time when Raff was known on record only for the Cavatina and the Fifth Symphony to now when pretty well all his orchestral works have been recorded has been about 35 years. Sterling's three CDs, of which this is the last, have moved to fill the lacunae with great style (see review; see review). Although German his sensibility is rather Gallic or perhaps Italian. His music can be decorative and surprisingly - at least to me - leans towards the glitter and filigree of Saint-Sens and Stojowski.

The forty minute Tageszeiten (Times of Day) was premiered in Wiesbaden in 1880. It is a poetic extravaganza for a florid and immanent solo piano, choir and orchestra. It draws deep on the German pastoral romantic vein and with delicate Chopin-like decoration constantly on flow. The superbly sung choral writing is in the winning innocent manner of Brahms’ Volkslieder. The effect is rather like a hybrid of Haydn's Jahreszeiten, Arensky’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven's Choral Fantasy also for solo piano, choir and orchestra. The finale reminded me briefly of Bruckner's Fourth The Romantic. It's all broadly the same stylistic territory. The sung words are poems by Raff's daughter Hlne. These are printed in full in the booklet with translation into English.

The recording is great. It captures detail with fidelity down to picking up the tick of a paper snag at 00.06 in the finale of Tageszeiten. At the same time Sterling’s team do bring out a satisfyingly sensitive atmospheric nimbus.

Two short pieces are placed between Tageszeiten and Die Sterne. The rapturous celebratory Morgenlied, to words by J G Jacobi, is both regal and ecstatic all in the space of just over six minutes. It’s something of an admixture of Schumann and Delius but it’s the dynamic Delius of the first section of A Mass of Life. The second brevity is Einer Entschlafenen. This is seraphic and honeyed with placid woodwind solos, part describing and part invoking the blessed rise of a departed woman's soul to divine heavenly heights.

Die Sterne is for choir and orchestra and is in five movements. It again sets words by Raff's daughter under the pseudonym of Helge Heldt. It too is a most melodious and mellifluous work in the most exalted German romantic tradition. It’s along the same axis as Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Kuhlau, Lange-Muller and Gade.

Choral societies in the know will make it their business to hear these radiant pieces and the general listener who enjoys the Brahms’ Volkslieder, Schumann's Rosepilgerfahrt or Kuhlau’s Elverhoj should lose no time in acquiring this outstanding disc.

There are a couple of typos (something of which I am also guilty): Leizig for Leipzig and the solecism, sadly not that uncommon these days, of comprised of - the 'of' is unnecessary; composed of, yes; comprised of, never. Apart from these trivia this and its two companion discs are the very model of artistic, technical and musical endeavour and generosity.

Rob Barnett

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