Victor Carr Jr.
, December 2001
"In his massive, five-movement Symphony No. 1 'To the Fatherland' (1861), Joachim Raff (1822-82) set out to describe in music the character and high aspirations of the German people--an ambitious undertaking that garnered him much praise during his lifetime. For the most part the symphony consists of pleasant, middle-ground romantic-era music with occasional hints of originality. It opens with a vibrant, sweeping, early Wagner-style allegro that also reveals the influence of Mendelssohn, with whom Raff studied (he also assisted Liszt in orchestrating his own works). Because of his tendency to ramble, Raff's melodic material sometimes outlives its original inspiration (especially in his development sections). On the other hand, there are some genuinely memorable passages, such as the scherzo's catchy rhythm (again reminiscent of Mendelssohn) and the long beautiful arc of the central Larghetto. The lengthy finale disappoints, owing to Raff's surprisingly prosaic treatment of what started out to be promising material. None of this dissuades Samuel Friedman and the Rhenish Philharmonic from doing their utmost to showcase this masterfully orchestrated music (the strings are especially radiant throughout). The 1988 recording, originally released on Marco Polo, is low level but opens up to a satisfying fullness at higher volume settings."