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
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.
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
See also review by Rob