Symphony No.5 op.177 Lenore and
Orchestral Suite No.1 op.101
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Hans Stadlmair
Tudor 7077 2000 DDD 73:25
For the fifth time a performance of the Lenore Symphony has appeared on disk. Thirty years ago Bernard Herrmann had still to open the Pandora's box which left the record market of the time coping with the welcome rediscovery of Joachim Raff. Then all went quiet again until the eighties orchestrated the Raff renaissance, on CD at least. By that time the Basel-based company Tudor had already tried to do something for its (half) countryman Raff. However, the performances from them of the Symphonies Nos.8-11 and of the Piano Concerto were not particularly encouraging, because the Basle orchestra was simply overtaxed and, with the exception of the "Autumn" Symphony, the tempi chosen were much too sluggish.
Now, with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, one of the best known orchestras in the German speaking world is committed to continuing the cycle. Admittedly, the golden years of the Bambergers are some time past but their familiarity with the more taxing works of Mahler and Strauss gives reassurance about the artistry of their playing. And Hans Stadlmair, a composer himself, can effortlessly take Raff's most extravagant symphony under his wing. With extraordinarily taut grasp, the first movement immediately surges forward. Thereby a paradox is clear. Although Stadlmair remains slower than the metronome markings demanded by Raff, the interpretation sounds rushed and quite distinct from that of the other interpreters (Herrmann, Bamert, Schneider and Butt) with whom the movement is initially slower. The interpretation lacks flexibility, so that Raff's music sometimes sounds rather stiff, which is hardly true of this fascinatingly written movement.
The overall relationship with the underlying text [of Bürger's Ballad] must obviously be fundamental, because the composer intended his syntactic structures, rhythmically and harmoniously to "align" them; contrary to the present-day view of the interpreter finding the poetic sense under the four-square surface. Nothing determines one "narrow" interpretation of Raff's music as being the right way, I think rather the opposite. Rather it should be contrived to remain faithful to the metaphor whilst yielding the ability to pursue the most beautiful discoveries away from the path along the way; otherwise it becomes uncomfortably bombastic, as at the point of fortissimo before the second subject. At the same time it is played with exquisite tonal colour, the network of prominent instruments and additional voices essentially more complex than is revealed in previous interpretations.
This is particularly so in the slow movement which under Stadlmair is a flow of beautiful sound, showing that Raff really intended each individual instrumental to count. In particular the expressive lines of the development section don't become, as with Bamert and Butt, lumped together but are melded into a harmonious whole. In the finale, some of the recalled motifs from earlier movements are sometimes submerged, and in some places the echoing sound obscures the efforts of the conductor to shape sharp edges. Nonetheless Herrmann achieves more of an impression in the finale, here it is really all or nothing.
Nevertheless, all in all another respectable interpretation from the Bamberg Symphony.
As a bonus, there is the premier recording of the Suite No.1 op.101, which, however, cannot be considered one of the strongest inventions of the composer. The themes are usually plainly outlined, there is often too much repetition of the first idea and there is not always much of significance from Raff. An interesting detail worth remembering however is that Raff (re) constructed from memory two movements from the abandoned e minor Symphony of 1854 and integrated them into the Suite. As opposed to the Symphony, the five movement work aims at a public that wants to be entertained but doesn't have a well structured compositional framework. Solidly offered, but not a particularly inspired rendition.
[This review was originally published in German in the Newsletter of the Joachim Raff Society]
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