Notes and Editorial Reviews
This label has long been devoted to the music of Günter Raphael, and this is the fourth volume in its series. The first was called Entrée (VKJK1134), the second was devoted to violin works (VKJK1135) and the third to chamber music (VKJK1220).
Raphael was born in Berlin in 1903 and was one of those many artists who went into a form of internal exile during the years of National Socialism. He was not allowed to work, nor were his compositions performed, with one or two daring exceptions, such as Eugen Jochum performing the Smetana Suite in Hamburg in 1937. This work was commissioned by the publisher Max Hinrichsen of Edition Peters, London. Raphael took enticing themes from Smetana’s piano dances and polkas and gave
rein to his gift for free symphonic instrumental imagination. The result was full of genial and playful writing, not remotely brash or cutting edge, simply colourful and fizzing with the energy embodied by the Bohemian dance motifs. The work was even picked up by Koussevitzky who programmed it in Boston, but the performance we hear in this disc is by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Herbert Kegel in 1955.
Jabonah, a ballet suite after Mongolian folk tunes, was written in 1948. It must have appealed to Leopold Stokowski’s sense of sonic novelty because he undertook this radio performance with the NDR Symphony Orchestra during a 1952 visit. The orchestration is certainly redolent of the wintry plains in places, and it also thins to lonely wind soliloquies but it perks up, too, with some tempestuous and exciting writing for brass and percussion. Stokowski certainly seems to take to it, though I’m not aware that he performed it again. The Sinfonia breve of 1949 lasts, as its name indicates, a mere 21 minutes but with the outstanding Carl Schuricht at the helm of his Stuttgart orchestra it packs a real punch. The exciting driving rhythms and contrasting cool of the central Rondo set up plenty of opportunities for subtle characterisation. The music’s harlequin elements are rightly brought out, and the finale’s dance song reminiscences of the first movements end, after further room for contrast, in heady triumph. So, too, does this superb performance from one of the most overlooked conductors of his time. The same performance is also housed in the recently released Hänssler 10-CD box devoted to Schuricht’s Stuttgart radio broadcasts between 1951 and 1966 [CD 93.292].
The final work of the quartet is Zoologica, Op.83, written toward the end of the composer’s life. These little animal pieces are compressed studies, droll, unsettling, mysterious and galumphing. The lineage from Saint-Saëns is not so very far. Both men shared a sense of humour though Raphael’s was rather more serious-minded, clearly. Storks, swans, geese, ducks, flamingos, bears, elephants (as double basses) and apes also make appearances. There’s some 12-tone usage by parrots, a musical and zoological first. This is the most recent performance, as well: the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Rolf Reinhardt in 1965.
If you’ve followed Raphael thus far in the series, carry on. Fine works are guaranteed in excellent and authoritative readings, historically significant too, and well transferred and annotated. Add the CPO boxes of the symphonies and violin works and you really will be getting to grips with Raphael.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Sinfonia breve, Op. 67 by Günter Raphael
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra,
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra
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