This label has long been devoted to the music of Günter Raphael,
and this is the fourth volume in its series. The first was called
Entrée (VKJK1134), the second was devoted to violin
works (VKJK1135) and the third to chamber music (VKJK1220).
Raphael was born in Berlin in 1903 and was one of those many
artists who went into a form of internal exile during the years
of National Socialism. He was not allowed to work, nor were
his compositions performed, with one or two daring exceptions,
such as Eugen Jochum performing the Smetana Suite in
Hamburg in 1937. This work was commissioned by the publisher
Max Hinrichsen of Edition Peters, London. Raphael took enticing
themes from Smetana’s piano dances and polkas and gave rein
to his gift for free symphonic instrumental imagination. The
result was full of genial and playful writing, not remotely
brash or cutting edge, simply colourful and fizzing with the
energy embodied by the Bohemian dance motifs. The work was even
picked up by Koussevitzky who programmed it in Boston, but the
performance we hear in this disc is by the Berlin Radio Symphony
Orchestra and Herbert Kegel in 1955.
Jabonah, a ballet suite after Mongolian folk tunes,
was written in 1948. It must have appealed to Leopold Stokowski’s
sense of sonic novelty because he undertook this radio performance
with the NDR Symphony Orchestra during a 1952 visit. The orchestration
is certainly redolent of the wintry plains in places, and it
also thins to lonely wind soliloquies but it perks up, too,
with some tempestuous and exciting writing for brass and percussion.
Stokowski certainly seems to take to it, though I’m not aware
that he performed it again. The Sinfonia breve of 1949
lasts, as its name indicates, a mere 21 minutes but with the
outstanding Carl Schuricht at the helm of his Stuttgart orchestra
it packs a real punch. The exciting driving rhythms and contrasting
cool of the central Rondo set up plenty of opportunities for
subtle characterisation. The music’s harlequin elements are
rightly brought out, and the finale’s dance song reminiscences
of the first movements end, after further room for contrast,
in heady triumph. So, too, does this superb performance from
one of the most overlooked conductors of his time. The same
performance is also housed in the recently released Hänssler
10-CD box devoted to Schuricht’s Stuttgart radio broadcasts
between 1951 and 1966 [CD 93.292].
The final work of the quartet is Zoologica, Op.83,
written toward the end of the composer’s life. These little
animal pieces are compressed studies, droll, unsettling, mysterious
and galumphing. The lineage from Saint-Saëns is not so very
far. Both men shared a sense of humour though Raphael’s was
rather more serious-minded, clearly. Storks, swans, geese, ducks,
flamingos, bears, elephants (as double basses) and apes also
make appearances. There’s some 12-tone usage by parrots, a musical
and zoological first. This is the most recent performance, as
well: the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra is conducted by
Rolf Reinhardt in 1965.
If you’ve followed Raphael thus far in the series, carry on.
Fine works are guaranteed in excellent and authoritative readings,
historically significant too, and well transferred and annotated.
Add the CPO boxes of the symphonies and violin works and you
really will be getting to grips with Raphael.