Sterling Records has released this album of sacred music by German-Swiss composer Joachim Raff (1822-1882) containing eighty minutes of world premiere recordings. The largest scale work is De Profundis, Op. 141, programmed alongside his Te Deum, WoO 16 and three a cappella choral works. It’s all music well worth hearing and the a cappella pieces are particularly appealing. Karlstads Kammarkör, Stockholm Singers and the Göteborg Opera Orchestra under Henrik Schafer and Bo Aurehl turn in exceptionally fine performances.
Joachim Raff served as Franz Liszt’s assistant in the early 1850’s at Weimar and was encouraged by his employer to write liturgical works for chorus. More interested in keyboard music and opera than in writing sacred choral music, Raff eventually capitulated and completed his Te Deum, WoO 16 rather hastily in 1853, barely in time for rehearsals to begin for the premiere performance. Raff’s Te Deum is Lisztian in spirit and shows the influence of the older composer throughout. Over time, Raff would fold these influences into his own emerging style. Listening to this recording, one can hear this clearly in the contrast between the conclusion of the Te Deum and the opening measures of De Profundis, Op. 141 completed fourteen years later in 1867.
Both works are scored for chorus and large orchestra, with full rafts of winds and brass, but whereas the Te Deum sounds rather perfunctory, the De Profundis has heart. I felt that the music kept getting better as the disc played on; as fine a work as the De Profundis is, the highlight for me was the nearly thirty minutes of a cappella choral music that concludes the album. All of these a cappella works were written between 1867 and 1869 when Raff’s interest in writing sacred music reached its height. During this time, the composer reached back and incorporated polyphonic and antiphonal techniques of the renaissance, and further back to ancient times basing some of his choruses on original chant tunes.
In these beautiful works, Raff disregards the currents of post-romanticism around him that is understood to be the future of music. Likely for fear of being thought behind the times, he withheld them from publication, and they, along with the Te Deum, were not published until 2012 with the Raff Complete Edition. It is interesting how we have gone full circle and are only now coming to know and appreciate this music, and that of countless other composers who, for decades on either side 1900, quietly wrote beautiful music, heedless of musical academia.
While Joachim Raff was in Liszt’s employ, the older composer encouraged his younger colleague to devote his efforts to creating religous music literature. Raff was rather more interested in keyboard and vocal music in general and the theatre in particular. In July 1853, Raff composed his setting of the Te Deum, a rare consession to Liszt’s encouragement on a commission from the Roman Catholic Church in Weimar. In Roman Catholic liturgy, psalm 130 occurs in the Liber Usualis. Raff’s setting of this text could be interpreted as his sole effort at the composition of a Requiem Mass
Composer: Joachim Raff
Regarded in his lifetime as one of the foremost composers of the romantic era, Raff was forgotten for most of the 20th century. Now his reputation is being restored as a new generation of performers and music lovers rediscover him and treasure his music’s beauty and vitality.
Conductor: Henrik Schaefer
Henrik Schaefer started his musical career in 1991 as a viola player and youngest member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. After studying conducting in Leipzig (1994-98), he became Claudio Abbado’s assistant (2000) with the Berlin Philharmonic, which he conducted severals times in operas and concerts.
Choir: Karlstad Chamber Choir
The Karlstad Chamber Choir (Karlstad Kammarkör) has about 36 singers. Some of us are professional musicians, some are amateurs. Every Monday night they gather together with their conductor create some music, “for the sake of the audience, but also for our own.”
Orchestra: Göteborg Opera Orchestra
“The orchestra is very flexible,” says Mette Berntzen, Head of Orchestra at the Göteborg Opera. “The opera house has a broad repertoire and we play everything from baroque opera to musicals. The musicians have a good command of many different styles and adapt their way of playing to what is happening on stage.”
Soprano: Susanna Andersson
Born in Sweden, her lyric toned voice and dynamic performances have taken her from Sweden to London, Leipzig to Buenos Aires, and from Shanghai to New York. With a span from baroque to modern music she is in demand on both the concert platform as well as on the operatic stage.
Choir: Stockholm Singers
Conductor: Bo Aurehl