Similar question retrieval is a core task in community-based question answering (CQA) services. To balance the effectiveness and efficiency, the question retrieval system is typically implemented as multi-stage rankers: The first-stage ranker aims to recall potentially relevant questions from a large repository, and the latter stages attempt to re-rank the retrieved results. Most existing works on question retrieval mainly focused on the re-ranking stages, leaving the first-stage ranker to some traditional term-based methods. However, term-based methods often suffer from the vocabulary mismatch problem, especially on short texts, which may block the re-rankers from relevant questions at the very beginning. An alternative is to employ embedding-based methods for the first-stage ranker, which compress texts into dense vectors to enhance the semantic matching. However, these methods often lose the discriminative power as term-based methods, thus introduce noise during retrieval and hurt the recall performance. In this work, we aim to tackle the dilemma of the first-stage ranker, and propose a discriminative semantic ranker, namely DenseTrans, for high-recall retrieval. Specifically, DenseTrans is a densely connected Transformer, which learns semantic embeddings for texts based on Transformer layers. Meanwhile, DenseTrans promotes low-level features through dense connections to keep the discriminative power of the learned representations. DenseTrans is inspired by DenseNet in computer vision (CV), but poses a new way to use the dense connectivity which is totally different from its original design purpose. Experimental results over two question retrieval benchmark datasets show that our model can obtain significant gain on recall against strong term-based methods as well as state-of-the-art embedding-based methods.