Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2 in C.
The Tempest; Macbeth; Romeo and Juliet; Othello
Neeme Järvi, cond; Suisse Romande O
CHANDOS 5117 (SACD: 77:47)
Joachim Raff was a popular and prolific 19th-century composer. His Symphony No. 2 is his opus 140! Raff composed 11 well-crafted symphonies that sound remarkably similar despite their numerous nature-oriented subtitles suggesting a wider variety in tone. All of this music would seem to be in Neeme
Järvi’s wheelhouse. He is rarely competitive in frequently recorded and played music, but with B-list composers where there is little or no recorded competition, Järvi has been very useful in providing technically competent recordings that expand the catalog.
Raff’s Second Symphony begins with a striking theme that is immediately reminiscent of the Rhine motif from the
. It is lightened texturally to the point where it fits well into the four similar movements with little drama, dissonance, or controversy. One of Raff’s strengths is his consistently effective use of a standard mid 19th-century orchestra. Järvi’s penchant for fast tempos serves him well here in that he never lets the music get bogged down in formal note spinning, but he doesn’t overdrive it either.
The Four Shakespeare Preludes were all written in 1879 (13 years and nearly 150 works after the Second Symphony), but do not necessarily appear to have been intended to be played together. That is a good thing, because playing all four of these preludes at the same time would stretch the patience of even the most devoted Raffian! I personally enjoy well-orchestrated romantic music, but these works may be more effective than ambien for insomniacs. Much is made in the program notes of how
“follow the dramatic structure of the plays,” while
Romeo and Juliet
“tend to encapsulate the plays’ general dramatic situations.” I am not sure about that, but one would reasonably expect
The Tempest, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet,
to have some very different and highly dramatic music, especially in 1879 at the height of the Romantic age. However, the four works sound remarkably similar to each other and even to the Second Symphony except for their slightly more terse and episodic structure. Any melodic material is ho-hum, to say the least. Raff does get a little crazy when he introduces a snare drum in
. Järvi’s interpretations sound fine, as far as I can tell in the absence of any significant competition.
Chandos’s SACD sound serves the music well with sweet instrumental texture, good orchestral balance, and no trace of digital harshness or objectionable spotlighting of individual instruments. If you would enjoy a collection of pleasant but minor romantic music, don’t hesitate to acquire this well-executed recording.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Joachim Raff’s symphonies have a reputation as being diffuse, bloated, and just not terribly interesting. On the basis of some of his programmatic works in the form, perhaps this is true, at least some of the time, but his Second is a lively, compact, formally shapely and melodically rich work that does not deserve its neglect. Maybe the first movement, which is based on a triadic theme not terribly susceptible to development, lacks drama, but it certainly moves well, as does the entire symphony for that matter. The finale in particular maintains its momentum from start to finish, unlike so many other romantic symphonies. At only 33 minutes (in this performance), you can’t say that the piece outstays its welcome. Järvi typically does not see profundity where none exists, but leads the orchestra in a joyful romp through the piece that proves consistently entertaining.
The four Shakespeare preludes also prove to be lots of fun. All are relatively short but well-orchestrated and atmospheric. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet is the tamest–it’s only nine minutes long and it’s not Tchaikovsky, but Othello is punchy and tense (and even shorter); The Tempest opens with an effective storm and features music that challenges you to figure out who the characters are that Raff illustrates; and Macbeth, possibly the best of all, spends a lot of time focused on the witches and, seemingly, the final battle. It’s great to have this music recorded, and terrifying to realize that the symphony is Raff’s Op. 140 and the preludes his WoO 49-52. My but that man could churn it out, couldn’t he? Fine playing and excellent sonics round out a release that deserves your attention.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 140 by Joachim Raff
Suisse Romande Orchestra
Written: 1866; Wiesbaden, Germany
Venue: Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland
Length: 33 Minutes 8 Secs.
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 140: I. Allegro
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 140: II. Andante con moto
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 140: III. Allegro vivace
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 140: IV. Andante maestoso - Allegro con spirito
The Tempest Overture: WoO 49
Romeo and Juliet Overture: WoO 51
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