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Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Te Deum, WoO.16 (1853) [10:05]
De Profundis (Psalm 130), op.141 (1867) [40:21]
*Pater Noster, WoO.32 (1869) [7:55]
*Ave Maria, WoO.33 (1869) [6:29]
*Vier Marianischen Antiphonen, WoO.27 (1867) [15:10]
Karlstad Chamber Choir and Stockholm Singers/Anders Hörngren
Gothenburg Opera Orchestra/Henrik Schaefer, *Bo Aurehl
rec. Gothenburg Concert Hall, 25 May 2012; *Stora Kil church, Sweden, 16-18 October 2011.
STERLING CDS1098-2 [79:59]

With a new cycle of Joachim Raff's highly idiomatic, imaginative symphonies under way on Chandos (see review of volume 1), as well as Tra Nguyen's excellent recording for Grand Piano of the complete solo piano works (review of latest volume), another aspect of this much underrated composer's considerable output is opened with this very generous recording of some major and minor religious works for choir. A previous release from Sterling focused on Raff's secular choral music (CDS 1089).
 
The Swedish voices heard here are of a decent quality, with few real weaknesses, especially in the unaccompanied works. It is a surprise to read that the majority of Karlstads Kammarkör's singers are amateurs. Choirmaster Anders Hörngren does a good job of maintaining discipline and togetherness, with individual voices only rarely standing out where they ought not. As a bonus, it is gratifying to hear the final [r]s of 'Pater Noster' and other Latin words pronounced as they should be, rather than vocalised the way most English singers do.
 
The Gothenburg Opera Orchestra is not one of the world's finest, and the playing in the Te Deum is not entirely convincing. The effect is not helped by an unsatisfactory balance that at times threatens to overwhelm the choir who for their part seem in awe of the instrumental forces. There is also a fairly obvious editing join at 1'40 on the first track. On the other hand, the inherent lossiness of Sterling's audio may already have deterred listeners - this is not a disc for audiophiles. Yet sound is not flat by any means, and doubtless many ears will not find all that much to get upset about.
 
Raff's music at any rate is undeniably exquisite. The three a cappella works are gentle and serene, neo-Renaissance in spirit, reminiscent in many ways of Brahms. The Te Deum is strikingly lyrical, although it probably needs a more polished performance to do it true justice. The De Profundis is the main focus of the recording and outside the symphonies among Raff's most massive works. At the time of composition Raff was into his prime, embarking on a decade of incredible fertility. De Profundis is a work of great drama and, living up to its title, great solemnity, harking back to the masterly models of previous centuries - Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. All performers are on much better form here - perhaps the Te Deum was recorded afterwards, when everyone was, quite understandably, physically and emotionally drained by the powerful De Profundis.
 
The accompanying booklet notes are by Raff scholar Avrohom Leichtling, who also wrote for Chandos in the above-mentioned recording, and are so thorough and detailed as to almost justify the cover price on their own! There is nothing that anyone could want to know about these works that Leichtling omits to discuss. The biographies are thorough in their way, if sometimes too much so: "The Göteborg Opera Orchestra is the only orchestra ever to have received the Opera Prize given by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet". Phew.  

Byzantion
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See also review by Rob Barnett