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SACD Review

Franz Peter Schubert


  • Incidental Music, D. 797 (Op. 26)
Serena Malfi, contralto
Schweizer Kammerchor
Musikkollegium Winterthur/Douglas Boyd
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG9011633-6 Hybrid Multichannel SACD 58min
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For most music enthusiasts, Franz Schubert (1797-1828) is best known as a composer of songs, chamber music and orchestral works. But he also wrote several sacred and dramatic stage-works, and all throughout his tragically short life he strove indefatigably to be a success in the latter genre. Alas, this was not to be. Out of the ten or so pieces that he produced, intrigues and other adverse elements prevented all but three of them to be performed during his lifetime.

One of these was "Rosamunde", a four-act drama after a libretto by Helmina von Chezy. The text of the version Schubert used is now lost, but luckily the music has survived, despite the huge failure of the première, which was held on the 20th of December 1823 at the Theater an der Wien. Indeed, the work was removed from the programme the very next day, but despite this colossal flop, Schubert's melodies are so captivating that they have endured the test of time.

Oddly enough, the most popular piece is the Overture, something the composer never had in mind, as he was composing on borrowed time and had to include the one he wrote for "Alfonso and Estrella". Later – and on this recording – the one from "The Magic Harp" was used, a piece no one had ever heard before. Ballets and choruses of spirits, shepherds and hunters abound, but the centerpiece is a "romanza" full of magical feelings – here a captivating "tour-de-force" for Serena Malfi.

The music also includes three entr'acte pieces, one of which became the central theme of the Quartet in A minor and other works. In these new contexts, Schubert's inspirations cease to reflect outside conflicts, and now only serve to project emotional states and feelings. #more rigidity, but sublime poetry in its own right.

Boyd and his Swiss forces give a spirited and impassioned interpretation, and their loving attention to every nuance of the music, makes this version a prime recommendation. Superb sound and documentation complete a disc of enviable quality in all respects.

Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech