The first thing I noticed about this CD was what fine form the Suisse Romande is in nowadays. Marek Janowski and Neeme Järvi have created a better orchestra in a short time than Ansermet did in 40 years! A century ago, Raff’s output was regularly featured in concerts but gradually fell into neglect.
The second striking thing here is Järvi’s duration for the symphony at 40’. Bernard Herrmann’s 1970 self-financed recording takes 56! Herrmann ranked it with the Symphonie fantastique and Lizst’s Faust Symphony, and he was right.
Lenore is a young girl whose sweetheart dies in battle but whose spirit returns and carries her off on horseback. As usual, the whole thing ends, gothically, in tears. The wild ride doesn’t conjure up anything like the visceral terror of the ride to the abyss in Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust, but it’s still impressive. The March, however, miraculously anticipates Mahler’s militaristic songs in Des Knaben Wunderhorn: I say miraculous, because Raff was born in 1822, almost 40 years before Mahler. It has a tune I couldn’t get out of my head for days. The excellent liner notes describe the work in terms of a single tempo, ingeniously manipulated by altering note values and phrasing.
The other works on this 80’ plus CD are a clutch of overtures and a short symphonic poem which enhance Raff’s reputation as a brilliant orchestrator. The sound is excellent.