Franz Schubert composed about an hour of incidental music for Helmina von Chézy's play Rosamunde. The play itself is lost, however, which might be just as well, if it is as incomprehensible as von Chézy's libretto for Carl Maria von Weber's opera Euryanthe. Schubert's music was nearly lost too, and it owes its survival, at least in part, to George Grove and Arthur Sullivan (the latter of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.) Even so, ambiguities remain. There is no Rosamunde overture per se; when the play was produced, Schubert's overture to the unrelated Alfonso und Estrella was used instead, at his suggestion. He apparently came to refer to it as the Rosamunde overture. However, shortly before his death, the incidental music to Rosamunde was published in a version for piano duet, and the overture to Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp) was published as its overture. Very confusing! David Gideon and ReDiscovery give us the best of both worlds by including the overtures to both Alfonso und Estrella (as recorded by Dixon) and, at the end, Die Zauberharfe (as recorded by Hurst – rather racily, I might add). Schubert composed ten numbers, but the popularity of the Entr'acte #3 and the Ballet #2 overshadows the rest of them, particularly because the theme of the former appears in other works by Schubert.
ReDiscovery has devoted previous releases to Dean Dixon, so a word or two about this conductor is in order. Born in 1915 in New York City, Dixon studied at Juilliard and Columbia, but sometimes struggled for recognition in the United States because there were those who could not grasp the concept of a black conductor. (Dixon's parentage was West Indian.) As a result, after 1949, most of his career was in Europe, and he made several recordings – including this one – for the Westminster label. (He did, however, make several guest appearances with major American orchestras during the 1970s.) Dixon preferred to be judged on his merits on the podium; he had little interest in being known as an "American Negro conductor" or as an "American conductor." He died in 1976. Sadly, almost none of his work is represented on CD today.
Dixon's recording of the music from Rosamunde is extremely likeable. Here's a conductor who understood the late Classical and early Romantic repertoire very well, and who conducted it with personality but not with ego. (Of course, when conducting Schubert, it helps to be working with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.) There's a lot of affection here, and the mood is relaxed without becoming slack or dull. The music is never driven, and the nervousness that can make some Schubert performances a trial is never present here. The chamber chorus handles their slight duties professionally, and although alto Hilde Roessel-Majdan's voice is darker than one expects in the Romanze, the sound is alluring. In the quickest passages, there are minor moments of passing discomfort from the violins. For the most part, the sound is good; Gideon has done wonders with these old LPs.
As with most reissues from ReDiscovery (www.rediscovery.us), this CD-R will set you back only $15, which includes shipping and handling.
Copyright © 2008 by Raymond Tuttle