Contrary to the impression music historians give, when Brahms and Bruckner were in their primes, there was at least one other German symphonist worth hearing. Joachim Raff (1822-82) may not have reach their exalted level, but he was praised in his youth by Mendelssohn and Schumann, was orchestration assistant to Liszt, taught Richard Strauss’s teacher, and anticipated Sibelius.
His somewhat unusually structured four-movement Symphony No. 2, from 1866, is a finely crafted effusion of Romanticism. At 33:41, Järvi gives a generally more vigorous performance than others but grants the opening movement a bit more gravitas than usual. Järvi’s also at the helm of a superior orchestra to either of theirs and is recorded better, making clearer the subtle brilliance of Raff’s orchestration. The Shakespeare Preludes (1879) are colorful tone poems; The Tempest and Macbeth mirror the play plots, while Romeo and Juliet and Othello capture overall ambiance. All four feature quicksilver mood shifts; Othello, with its tritone contrast of D major and A-flat major, is especially striking.