Raff's vocal music is a substantial body of work. Half a dozen operas, several large scale works for combinations of soloists, chorus and orchestra, a few orchestral songs, some sets of a cappella pieces and over 100 songs and lieder for voice and piano. Like the rest of his oeuvre, these works enjoyed great popularity and were then forgotten. Sadly, they haven't shared in his recording renaissance - only two CDs of vocal music are currently available.
See the CD discography for full listings of all the recordings mentioned here. Recommended recordings are marked in the discography.
Raff's large catalogue of choral music is represented only by two CDs, so it's gratifying that, on the whole, they are such recommendable issues.
Firstly, squeezed onto a thrilling disc from Swedish label Sterling (CDS 1089 - review) are four secular works: the innovative Concertante Die Tageszeiten, the Cantata Die Sterne and the two choral songs Morgenlied and Einer Entschlafenen. The Sångkraft Chamber Choir deliver polished and involving performances, accompanied by the ever-dependable Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands Opera, under the sensitive baton on Andrea Quinn, who judges things well nigh perfectly. Die Tageszeiten, a species of choral symphony-cum-piano concerto also benefits from the typically accomplished piano playing of Tra Nguyen, by turns poetic and heroic. A must buy.
Sterling have followed this up with a second CD (CDS 1098 - review), and this time Raff's religious works are the focus: Henrik Schaefer conducts a magisterial reading of De Profundis, with splendid contributions from the Karlstad Kammerchör, Stockholm Singers, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra and the soprano Susanna Andersson. An impressive work, impressively performed. The short Te Deum is from the same forces and is given an appropriately lusty performed. Unfortunately it is marred at the start by a poor recording balance, which results in the orchestra overpowering the choirs. A shame. Bo Aurehl takes over the conductor's baton for the three a capella works which close the CD: the Ave Maria, Pater Noster and Vier Marianischen Antiphonen, all of which are given peerless performances. Despite the problems with the Te Deum, this is another thoroughly recommendable disc, which should be in any Raff enthusiast's collection.
Songs from Sanges-Frühing & Maria Stuart Lieder
The seductive beauty of Raff's vocal writing is amply demonstrated by the mezzo Andrea Meláth in this Hungaroton CD which features 15 songs from Sanges-Frühling op.98 and four from the Maria Stuart Lieder op.172 (HCD 32256 - review). The programme has been carefully chosen to give a wide variety of mood and style and includes some quite substantial pieces. Meláth is very impressive - her rich tone and careful characterisation are well captured in a warm and atmospheric recording. Thoroughly recommended.
Only one other song by Raff is available in a relatively modern recording. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau turns in a predictably persuasive performance of Unter den Palmen, one of the numbers from the Blondel de Nestle op.211 cycle. It is a good LP transfer, but is currently only available as part of a three CD set from EMI which is packed with similarly unusual (and admittedly very interesting) romantic repertoire (7243 5 67349-2).
Ständchen WoO.21 and Sie Still op.173 No.8, wildly popular in their day, are only to be heard on historic recordings that are almost 100 years old. Although the artists are of the first rank (McCormack and Schumann-Hienk), they cannot be recommended except to the curious.
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