Friday, June 17, 2011

Raff, Master and Servant

Today we highlight the perhaps most criminally neglected composer of all time: German master Joachim Raff (1822-1882). Although he was one of the most popular composers of his time, he was quickly forgotten, except for his contributions as assistant and occasional orchestrator of Franz Liszt (one suspects that he had an even greater part in Liszt's orchestrations than the great man admitted himself). Only in recent years, he is starting to get the attention he deserves as one of the best romantic masters, highly skilled in orchestration and a continuous source of wonderful themes, thanks to enterprising labels like Tudor, CPO and Naxos. I have listened to all his 11 symphonies and concertos, and a good part of his chamber music, and personally I rate him higher than Liszt. His masterpiece is the spooky Lenore symphony (his 5th), one of the best in the genre of programmatic symphonies. Since that one is not yet in the Naxos catalogue, I have selected the monumental first symphony, titled To the fatherland, over 70 minutes of unashamed romanticism, and an excellent introduction to his work. The Rheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic Orchestra under Samuel Friedmann does a great job here, and this disc is warmly recommended. If you check out only one new composer in 2011, you could hardly make a better choice than Raff (provided you do not already know him of course).