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Raff: Aus Thuringen, Italian Suite / Edlinger, CSSR State PO

Release Date: 12/17/1992 
Label:  Marco Polo   Catalog #: 223194   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Joachim Raff
Conductor:  Richard Edlinger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Czech Philharmonic OrchestraKosice Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

An earlier attempt to revive the music of Joachim Raff (1822-1882) fizzled after generating recordings of his two most successful symphonies, the Third and Fifth, rival versions of his only piano concerto, and a few miscellaneous works. In preparation for this review, I listened again to a two-hour tape I had made in 1974 of a WNCN (New York) broadcast devoted to excerpts from Raff's symphonies, played in four-hand piano reductions; a rehearsal run-through of his Tenth Symphony (“To Autumn“) by the Riverside Chamber Ensemble (an amateur group); and several interviews with conductors (including Richard Kapp) who were then interested in Raff. The program, put together by Raff enthusiast Roger Nortman, seemed to foretell a brave new chance for Read more Raff, a composer held in such high esteem in his lifetime that the authoritative British music scholar, Ebenezer Prout, coupled him with Wagner and Brahms as the three greatest composers of the age. This was in 1874. By the year of his death, Raff was already being consigned to the dust heap. His last works were greeted icily even by German critics. He was discovered to have written too much, too easily, grabbing whatever ideas floated through his head; and it was said that he never achieved a style distinctively his own, borrowing from the Mendelssohn-Schumann school with one hand while he took from the Liszt-Wagner school with the other. Along with many of his contemporaries—Gade, Volkmann, Reinecke, Rheinberger, Rubinstein, Goldmark, Bruch—he joined the legions of the has-beens.

Now, along with all of the aforementioned, he is having his case reassessed in the recording studio, if not on the concert stage. This second reassessment promises to be more effective than the first, since the Marco Polo label—via its owner, Klaus Heymann—plans to record all eleven of Raff's symphonies, as well as the four suites and miscellaneous orchestral works. We have already had the opening salvo in a recording of the First Symphony (“An das Vaterland“) and now we are given two of the suites. I like them.

Curiously for a composer who claimed that there was no such thing as nationalism in music, Raff involves himself in national styles in both these works. His Thuringia strikes me as more authentic than his Italy. Aus Thüringen opens with a lengthy welcome to the ancient, central German principality. It is in perky, jolly cut-time, with plenty of solo work for woodwinds and horns. The second movement is a hymn to St. Elisabeth of Thuringia, the same Elisabeth who figures in Tannhäuser and in Liszt's eponymous oratorio. Here she appears in nineteenth-century hoop skirt rather than medieval trappings; there is a pointed reference to the Wagner opera at the end of the piece. Movement three is a dance of gnomes and sylphs, closer to ballet than to Berlioz. It has real charm. Movement four is a set of variations on a folksong that may be as familiar to you as it was to me, though I can't supply its title nor does Marco Polo's efficient house annotator, Keith Anderson, help out. When I was a little boy, half a century ago, we used to sing it to words beginning, “How can I leave thee, how can I let thee part? Thou hast this heart of mine, dear one believe me.“ I thought it was an old American ballad, but apparently it is an old Thuringian one. Raflfdoes magical things with it. He states it first in “harmony“ instruments, then puts it through a dozen or so metamorphoses, each an object lesson in virtuoso scoring. When the tune returns, each of its clauses is given to a different orchestral choir. It's a movement worthy to set beside the variations in Goldmark's Rustic Wedding Symphony. It deserves independent celebrity—FM stations take note! The concluding “Peasant Celebration“ is a bit of a letdown after these unbuttoned variations; Raff habitually had difficulty with his finales.

For the second suite on the disc, we leave Germany and head southward, to the land where the citrus tree blooms. The Italian Suite opens with a high-flown overture, rather in the manner of Zampa or Poet and Peasant. I don't see the Italian connection; the piece is in the Germanic grand concert overture tradition, and it is an exciting listen. The remaining four movements have titles that place them in Italy, at least the Italy defined by such German composers as Mendelssohn, Wolf, and Richard Strauss. But again Raff fails to catch the chiaroscuro of the landscape in the first two (“Barcarole“ and “Intermezzo“). Better is the “Notturno,“ a serenade à la Donizetti, with cello serving as operatic tenor; and better still is the closing “Tarantella,“ which, like most tarantellas, is heavily in debt to Rossini. Despite its confusion of nationalities, the Italian Suite provides a pleasant enough journey. But if I book another trip with the same travel agent, it will be a return to Thuringia.

The State Philharmonic of Košice, a town in eastern Slovakia, is one of several little-known central European orchestras that will be used by Marco Polo's producers to excavate the buried music of Raff, Rubinstein, and their like. If the other orchestras are as good as this one, we have lucked out. These Czech musicians play as though they thought Košice were Vienna or Prague, and they do not condescend to the music or consider it beneath them, as Vienna and Prague might. They take to Raff with affection and enthusiasm. The House of Arts in Košice, where the sessions took place in October 1988, sounds like an ideal venue for recording—rich, golden sounds and crystal clear directionality.

-- David Johnson, FANFARE [1/1990] Read less

Works on This Recording

Aus Thüringen by Joachim Raff
Conductor:  Richard Edlinger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Frankfurt, Germany 
Date of Recording: 10/1988 
Venue:  House of Arts, Kosice, Czechoslovakia 
Length: 35 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Italienische Suite by Joachim Raff
Conductor:  Richard Edlinger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kosice Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Germany 
Date of Recording: 10/1988 
Venue:  House of Arts, Kosice, Czechoslovakia 
Length: 31 Minutes 57 Secs. 

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