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Nonesuch H-71287
Nonesuch H-71287

Raff's LP heritage

There is no doubt over the event which began the revival in Raff's reputation - the issue in 1970 by the British label Unicorn of an LP of Raff's 5th. Symphony Lenore. The conductor, American film music composer Bernard Herrmann, had always been an advocate of Raff's music but, even with his reputation, he was only able to persuade the label to record the work by putting up money himself. Luckily the London Philharmonic's performance became a classic and remains the benchmark by which newer interpretations are judged. It was issued in the USA by Nonesuch in 1973 and for many Raff followers it has been the basis of their enthusiasm.

Herrmann's Lenore recording was one of the first issues to set off the general revival of interest in "unknown" romantic composers, leading to the creation of several labels specialising in this genre. The small California company Genesis had a reputation for quality products and the second Raff LP came in 1971 from their stable - the Suite op.91 for piano was played by Adrian Ruiz in an authoritative performance. Another Genesis Raff LP followed in 1972 and coupled a fine performance of the Piano Concerto from Frank Cooper and the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra under Zsolt Deáky with the Konzertstück of Alexander Dreyschock.

Genesis  1013
Genesis 1013
Vox Candide CE 31063
Vox Candide CE 31063

Renowned baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau included one of the songs from the "Blondle de Nestle" cycle in a 1971 LP in his series of recitals of lesser known romantic lieder.

The American label Vox was another romantic revival specialist and Raff's famous "Forest" Symphony No.3 was coupled with the "Ode to Spring" in one of the first issues from Vox's Candide stable in 1972. Although marred by tinny sound and a large cut in the finale, the symphony had an persuasive and enthusiastic performance from a middling German orchestra under Richard Kapp. The "Ode" Konzertstück had a typically barnstorming rendition from soloist Michael Ponti - then just beginning his work for Vox. He went on to make a large number of "neglected romantic piano concerto" LPs for Vox Candide.

In 1973 they released another Ponti LP featuring Raff's Piano Concerto in an unsubtle but exciting romp with their typically rather brittle sound.

Pianist Alan Etherden coupled Raff's engaging salon piece "La Polka de la Reine" with other non-Raff honeyed trifles on a 1984 Hunter's Moon LP called, appropriately enough "Enchanting Melodies".

Those seven LPs were the sum total of the easily available Raff repertoire until the advent of the CD. In Switzerland, however, more Raff recordings could be found from time to time. During the 70s and 80s some local labels were busily claiming Raff as a Swiss composer - the first such issue being as early as 1971 when a Swiss cultural organisation produced an LP featuring a perky performance by the wind section of the Swiss Italian Radio Orchestra of the Sinfonietta coupled with orchestral works from the early romantics Stuntz and Schnyder von Wartensee.

ex libris EL 16 958
ex libris EL 16 958
Oratorio LP set
Oratorio LP set

Other chamber works followed - the Zürich Piano Quintet gave a lovely reading of the Piano Quintet on the first LP produced by the fledgling Adriano label in 1977. During the following year, the String Octet was coupled with one of Spohr's double quartets in a lack lustre performance from the Zürich Chamber Orchestra on a Jecklin issue. Three more LPs were issued during the 1980s - two by the bookstore group Ex Libris. Swiss virtuoso Anne de Dadelsen played a mouth watering selection of Raff's piano music on an ex Libris 1984 vinyl, which itself may have been a reissue of an earlier Rimaphon issue in the 1970s. Three more short pieces, clearly recorded by de Dadelsen at the same time, were available on a Pelca LP but were coupled with music by other composers. Three further short piano pieces were recorded by Charles Dobler and Raff's only organ work, the Introduktion & Fugue, was featured in an LP recital by Norbert Hegner. The second Ex Libris issue was more substantial - a pioneering recording from György Lehel and the rather overstretched Basle Radio Symphony Orchestra of Raff's 8th. Symphony "Sounds of Spring". This was published in 1987, although the recording was from nine years earlier.

Ignoring several vinyls featuring historic performances or arrangements of the ubiquitous "Cavatine" and "La Fileuse", one final LP issue remains. The only LP boxed set of Raff's music ever produced was a 1987 three-LP recording of a live performance of the "World's End" Oratorio, which had taken place the previous year in Empfingen in Germany - the home town of Raff's family. The choral performance was not flawless and Gerhard Rehm's tempi were on the stodgy side but the soloists and the SW German Radio Symphony orchestra were more than adequate. The boxed set itself was produced by the town council to very high standards but it was not generally available commercially.

Most of these LP era performances were transferred to CD - the exceptions being the two Genesis recordings, Kapp's Symphony No.3, the Oratorio, the Piano Quintet and the Anne de Dadelson piano works. Full details of each recording are available in the LP discography.

© 1999-2017 Mark Thomas. All rights reserved.