Raff: Symphony No. 2 (SACD review)

Also, Four Shakespeare Preludes. Neeme Jarvi, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Chandos CHSA 5117.

Here’s another of those composers who was popular in his own day but whose music people forgot once he passed. The Swiss-German composer, teacher, and pianist Joachim Raff (1822-1882) seems to have been more influential than he was enduring, having a greater impact on future classical composers than on his future public. He wrote quite a lot, too: eleven symphonies, nine concertos, and a slew of other things--operas, suites, overtures, preludes, and chamber works--some of it descriptive, much of it Romantic. Whatever, Maestro Neeme Jarvi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande provide a well-rounded overview of the man’s orchestral output, and, who knows, perhaps if enough people hear Raff’s music, the fellow will come back into vogue. There are certainly enough recordings of his work to earn him a top spot again, so at least some conductors still like him.

Raff wrote his Second Symphony in 1866, and it begins with an opening that resembles something by Sibelius, though long before Sibelius, with touches of Wagner and the future Richard Strauss thrown in. I had never heard the work before, so I trust that Jarvi knows what he’s doing. The initial Allegro has a wonderfully rippling gait, warmly melodious and rhythmic. It’s essentially sunny music, energetic at times, with a welcome ebb and flow.

There follows a slow movement of both grandeur and grace, beginning with a hymn-like motif of refined beauty. It proceeds to get more dramatic as it goes along but quickly returns to a pastoral calmness. Jarvi appears to give it full due.

The third movement scherzo is a rather blustery affair, which apparently Jarvi does his best to modulate. By around the two or three-minute mark, it settles into a far more lyrical mood before returning to its tempestuous roots.

In contrast to the preceding movement, the finale starts very slowly and builds up to a lively, almost frenzied middle section, with Jarvi and his players hanging on for dear life. It’s all rather spirited, if somewhat disjointed. While the music has much to offer in bits and pieces, one can see why it didn’t remain in the public’s fancy. Maybe Jarvi’s recording will win it some new friends.

The companion works on the disc are four orchestral preludes Raff wrote in 1879, overtures to Shakespeare plays although not really programmatic. We hear the preludes to The Tempest, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello, each piece lasting from eight to fourteen minutes. Rather than actual tone poems, they are more like little atmospheric pieces describing moods and characters in the plays, sometimes filled with sound and fury but signifying little. Still, Jarvi has a way with them that makes them fun, especially Macbeth, with its Mendelssohnian overtones. I admit I enjoyed these little preludes more than I did the symphony.

Chandos used their new 24-bit/96kHz technology to record the music in multichannel SACD, although as with most such discs, this one is a hybrid. So you can listen in 5.0 multichannel SACD, 2.0 SACD, or 2.0 CD, the latter from a regular CD player. I listened mostly in 2.0 SACD, which provided a pleasantly full and dynamic sound.

Using Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland as their recording venue in 2012, Chandos obtained, as I say, a pleasing if not extraordinary product. The highs seem a bit hard and fizzy on occasion; otherwise, the recording projects a widespread, well-balanced, well-orderer sound, with moderate depth and a smooth overall response. The SACD layer appears to have more impact than the regular CD layer and at times can be quite thrilling.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa