Notes and Editorial Reviews
Järvi encourages the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande to give of their very best and, abetted by excellently judged SACD sound, the results are biting, driving, refined and brilliantly exciting. A scintillating and often nightmarish ride.
– Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
A year on from the opener, this is a very generously filled second volume of Chandos's promising Raff symphony cycle. There are two previous recordings of the composer's eleven highly idiomatic, imaginative symphonies, long unjustly neglected by programmers and critics alike. The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Hans Stadlmair, recently released by Tudor in handy boxed set form (review, with further discographical information) is
probably the critics' favourite, although it comes neither cheap nor without flaws. The forerunner was an early-Nineties series on Marco Polo with different orchestras, mainly from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, all but one under Urs Schneider: these are currently available from Naxos as mp3 downloads only (9.40248). In 2001 Naxos had the good idea of reissuing the Marco Polo recordings as physical discs under their own brand, but only two appeared (8.555411, 8.555491) and then the label either had a change of heart, or forgot.
Raff's programmatic 'Lenore' Symphony has three further modern recordings. One comes from a local rival to Järvi's ensemble, the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, conducted by Nicholas Carthy. A satisfactory, rather than compelling recording, it was brought out by Italian label Dynamic (CDS 283) well over a decade ago, and there has been no sign of any kind of follow-up since. Another version is Yondani Butt's with the Philharmonia Orchestra on ASV (DCA 1000), one performance in a long line by this determinedly uncontroversial conductor of almost clinical neutrality.
Finally there is Matthias Bamert and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra on Koch Schwann, re-released as 367932, but dogged by poor sound. As for Chandos, despite the fact its audio quality was not as good as the SACD/24-bit/96kHz tags – abetted by one or two prominent reviews – implied, the first release immediately became the new standard for the Second Symphony. This is above all for the fact that Järvi is such a fine all-round conductor and the Suisse Romande a pedigree orchestra with a definite aptitude for Raff-era music. Back at the same Swiss location, that slight lossy edge to the audio is still there on this latest disc, yet the Chandos sound is still much superior to all its predecessors', and despite the imperfections constitutes a further plus-point for Järvi's cycle.
On the other hand, no further incentive should be required when the offering is one of Raff's most memorable works, the tune-packed, masterfully orchestrated Fifth Symphony. He chooses to focus – and then expatiate - on the nervous drama of Gottfried Bürger's famous but second-rate poem 'Lenore', rather than on its cold-blooded religious mania. The story is similar to Dvo?ák's later cantata Svatební Košile, known in English as The Spectre's Bride, which was based on a similar-themed ballad by Karol Jaromír Erben. This is doubly pertinent: Raff shares Dvo?ák's intuitive feel for lyrical drama. In Bürger, the eponymous Lenore is duped and then effectively buried alive for thinking herself in a state of despair neglected by God, but Raff's final-movement 'ride into hell' is jauntily mesmeric and ends with an uplifting chorale – moving, but certainly diverging from the implications of Bürger's chilling poem.
It is worth noting here that Järvi's account is a full ten minutes faster than Stadlmair, Carthy and Schneider. This is interesting enough in itself, but these three were already seven or eight minutes quicker than Bernard Herrmann's pioneering recording with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1970 — (most recently available on Unicorn UKCD 2031, but originally funded by Herrmann himself. Järvi is taking Raff at his word with his astonishingly fast metronome markings, but those who have had their opinions as to how this work should sound coloured by more leisurely approaches will likely need time to get used to these tempos, and those many long in thrall to Herrmann's account may possibly never accept them. The third movement Marsch-Tempo in particular will raise many eyebrows: Raff asks for, and Järvi gives – where no one else seemingly dares - 160 beats per minute, a good 50% more than what would normally be expected from a march. Yet odd as it initially sounds, the speed is still well within the bounds of a military double march.
Järvi's programme is amplified by a selection of overtures from Raff's operas, plus one of his own transcriptions – his only such, in fact - the 'Abends' Rhapsody. One or two of these are take-them-or-leave-them works by comparison with the symphony, though their Rossini-meets-Beethoven idiom is undeniably attractive, and their realisation here by the ever-dependable Swiss Romandes elegantly winning. Best of the four extras is the most substantial, the 'King Alfred' overture. Scored for large orchestra, it is a dramatic tone poem in all but name. The notes describe it as "grandiose in design, comparable in sweep and scope to Wagner's recent overture to Tannhäuser". The Rhapsody itself is a lovely, moodily crepuscular work, over all too quickly.
As for the CD booklet, Chandos continue apace with their shrinking-font policy, their texts tiny islands of ink in blank paper seas, legibility further hampered by the greyish ink. Still, the notes themselves are usually excellent, as indeed those here by Avrohom Leichtling are - detailed, informative, enthusiastic, trilingual. Bürger's poem might usefully have been included, if only to make use of some of that blank space.
– Byzantion, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Dame Kobold, Op. 154: Overture by Joachim Raff
Suisse Romande Orchestra
Written: 1869; Germany
Konig Alfred: Overture by Joachim Raff
Suisse Romande Orchestra
Dornroschen: Prelude by Joachim Raff
Suisse Romande Orchestra
Dame Kobold, Op. 154: Overture
Rhapsody, Op. 163b, "Abends" (Evening)
Konig Alfred, WoO 14: Overture
Dornroschen, WoO 19: Prelude
Die Eifersuchtigen, WoO 54: Overture
Symphony No. 5 in E Major, Op. 177, "Lenore": I. Liebesgluck: Allegro
Symphony No. 5 in E Major, Op. 177, "Lenore": II. Andante quasi larghetto
Symphony No. 5 in E Major, Op. 177, "Lenore": III. Trennung: Tempo di marcia
Symphony No. 5 in E Major, Op. 177, "Lenore": IV. Wiedervereinigung im Tode
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