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Swiss Romantics: Joachim Raff Orchestral Works



The four works on this CD present an interesting picture of Joachim Raff at opposite ends of his career. Three of the works come from the formative period when Raff was Franz Liszt's personal secretary and factotum, and include a composition written by Liszt that Raff arranged and orchestrated for its initial performance. Two of the these were written in 1854, by which time Raff, then thirty-two years old, had long been an important member of the New German School, Liszt's closely-knit community based in Weimar.

Swiss Romantics: Joachim Raff Orchestral Works


Although it is by no means the only player on the field, Sterling has done more than any other label in presenting what you might call "the obscure" Raff.

For a Raff volume, forming part of Sterling's Swiss Romantics series, what justifies the first track being a Liszt collaboration with Raff? Although speculation remains, it does seem clear that Raff worked closely in support of the older Liszt from 1850 to 1856. This would have included duties as an orchestrator of the symphonic poems between Ce qu'on entends sur la montagne and Hunnenschlacht.

The Prometheus Overture, as befits its legendary subject, feels more recent than its 1850 vintage. It is racked with a very modern cauldron of catastrophe and torment: swirling strings, groaning brass and stern woodwind. The Göteborg Operaorkester and Henrik Schaefer (who also presides over the Te Deum disc) give it a notably turbulent outing which underscores the potential indebtedness of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini (1876) and Hamlet (1889). There's even an excitingly stertorous foreshadowing of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony (1888) towards the end (14:00) as well as, right at the end, some triumphant fanfaring redolent of Les Préludes (1854).

The overture from Raff's incidental music to the drama Bernhard von Weimar is about the same duration as the Prometheus Unbound overture. Once again it is more of a symphonic poem than an overture. It's a shade four-square and Teutonically stiff and sturdy towards the end. For the most part an engagingly serious rather than charming piece, it is well worth encountering. All this music dates from the summer of 1854 when Raff wrote it for a play by the man who would become his brother-in-law in 1859.

CD 2 is devoted to nine orchestral intermezzi from Raff's triptych oratorio: World's end - Judgement - New World. This was completed within a few years of the composer's death. It is an obviously ambitious project - one of the most ambitious. The Pestilence - Allegro is a surprisingly smooth depiction of the depredations of disease. There is more horror in the Prometheus Overture. His whirling violins in this piece are possibly influenced by Tchaikovsky's Francesca of five years earlier. It's a natural extension of the Famine movement. The Last Signs is very inventive with some magically high, gleaming writing for the violins and a fantastical Berlioz-like atmosphere. One can sense a composer straining at the conventions of his time to create something extraordinary and forbidding. The final extract is a serene Andante which seems to promise peace as a natural extension of the previous track (The Judgement). Raff holds tight to the tension which characterises much of his invention across these nine pieces.

The excellent 26-page essay by Dr Avrohom Leichtling lavishly incorporates music examples and is in English only.

This album capably makes the case for a complete recorded revival of: World's end - Judgement - New World. Generally, Raff emerges with much honour and credit at the other end of the experience of hearing this music. It can only result in people wanting to hear more by this composer. Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International