JOACHIM RAFF – String Quartet No. 4

Swiss-born Romantic composer Joseph Joachim Raff [1822–1882] wrote eight string quartets. He is considered to be a German composer as he spent most of his life there. I am going to discuss his Fourth String Quartet.

The work opens with a gentle, pulsing mood. A high violin melody is very elegant as the ensemble muse beneath it – I could listen to this violin forever. Next follows a solo cello statement, all the while the ensemble continue with the pulse. The first violin soon returns and there are some harmonised violin lines along with conversational forays. The opening violin melody is still heard, occasionally broken up by ensemble interjections. Now the cello again comes to the fore, with a lyrical melodic line. At this point, the violin melody changes and is more expansive, even expressing some rhythmic passages which are harmonised by the ensemble. The violin then rises above the ensemble to construct a beguiling section, constantly moving forward. The intensity increases and the violin again soars above the propulsive ensemble – it brings great beauty to the music. A mellowing of the feeling has the cello again expressing lyrical melodies as the violin takes a backward step. Not for long however, as the violin starts its journey to the end. The dynamics drop and the cello again speaks out, leading into a strong rhythmic section, led by the violin until the music comes to an abrupt stop.

The second movement, which is the shortest in the work, is closely related to the first movement but slightly faster. The first violin again gives a stunning performance, while being more expansive. Many instances of harmonised lines occur, together with call and response. There is a drama in this music, as the violin again leads us to another abrupt finish.

The next movement, marked andante, begins with a stately feeling, in a minor tonality. The way in which the two violins interact bring a very satisfying contrast to what has come before. They reach out, together, to fashion an alluring mood. Now the music begins to develop and some intense playing produces several powerful rhythmic passages which lead the music into a tempo. The violins are very active and strong as they direct the ensemble through this fascinating section. The intensity slowly subsides and we are left with the violins expressing gentle, sparse melodies, sometimes in harmony. Even though the melodies are soft, there is a certain rhapsodic feeling to be heard at times. Slowly, a pizzicato sound enters and the violins waft over it – this is another marvellous mood. Nearing the end, the violins lift in intensity before drifting to a conclusion with a sense of evanescence.

The finale, marked presto, commences with a short solo violin section, before it is joined by the second violin. Now the presto is felt, and the music moves into a tempo with swirling violin sounds. A rhythmic motif initiates a new, positive section. The violins begin an extended duet and they are eventually joined by a conspicuous cello. A three-way call and response makes for a beguiling mood. Now the violins reassert their position and drive briskly towards a final flourish, which completes the work.

The review CD, performed by the Mannheimer String Quartet, also contains String Quartets Nos. 2, 3 and 8. It is available on Amazon US and UK.

The full CD can be heard, along with other Raff quartets on Spotify, YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: A wonderful, charming Romantic quartet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.