Austrian Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was a superb composer of orchestral music, sacred music, instrumental music, chamber music, incidental music, and Lieder, but people have never seemed to appreciate his few attempts at opera. Of course, most of Schubert's works never became famous until after his death, yet even then the public never appeared to take much notice of things like Alfonso und Estrella, Fierrabras, Die Zwillingsbruder, and Die Verschworenen, while they loved his symphonies, chamber works, song cycles, and such. I suppose it's because Schubert never had much feel for the drama, story, or characterizations necessary for big operatic stage productions, but that's only a guess.
In any event, what we have on this 2002 CPO release is an arrangement of his opera Alfonso und Estrella for harmoniemusik, that is, for chamber ensemble--specifically on this disc for wind octet and double bass--that displays the composer's unique sense of charm and playfulness. Performed purely instrumentally, the opera becomes a delightful series of interrelated vignettes, sounding much as one expects of this man--refined, graceful, and elegant, yet with a sprightly air and an always smiling demeanor.
If there are any minor drawbacks, I'd say the Linos-Ensemble sounds a tad small for the music, turning the opera into basically a chamber work. You have to get used to that. Also, it's fairly brief, the entire arrangement lasting only a little over fifty-some minutes.
Nevertheless, CPO's sonics are commendable: very fluent, effortless, and clean. The winds--two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, two bassoons--and the double bass integrate smoothly across the sound stage, producing a solid, if not always very dynamic, audio picture.
As a side note, I also enjoyed CPO's cover painting, a reproduction of Manuel Barron y Carrillo's "Fiesta in Sevilla." It not only lends a note of atmosphere to the music, it's far more enjoyable than looking at a portrait of the composer, the face of the conductor, or some art department's idea of contemporary design. This is, overall, an unusual and recommendable disc.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: