Schubert: Rosamunde, complete incidental music (CD review)

Ileana Cotrubas, soprano; Rundfunkchor Leipzig; Willi Boskovsky, Staatskapelle Dresden. Brilliant Classics 95122.

As you know, only a relative handful of people heard any of Schubert's prolific musical output during his lifetime, the lucky few being mainly family and friends. However, one work that did get a fairly large audience, at least initially, was Schubert's incidental music to the play Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus by Helmina von Chezy. The premiere took place at the Theater an der Wien in 1825, but it failed and had only two performances. Fortunately for fans of Schubert, his music gained popularity after his death, the Rosamunde score remaining a treasure for us today.

Oddly, though, there aren't a lot of recordings of the complete incidental music, the one I've been living with quite happily until now being from Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchestra on Philips from 1983. However, the Brilliant Classics reissue here under review from Willi Boskovsky and the Staatskapelle Dresden provides a good alternative. Recorded a few years earlier, 1977, than Masur's, it sounds marginally clearer (if not so rich), with Boskovsky putting in a slightly more energetic performance than Masur.

So, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote the Rosamunde music in 1823 on a commission from the Theater an der Wien, and he completed it in barely two weeks (in some accounts less than five days). Although the play closed, as I say, quickly, critics and audiences rather enjoyed the music, and it has delighted listeners ever since (or, at least, ever since people like Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Brahms got behind it after the composer's death). The play itself doesn't matter anymore, lost to history--the plot and characters apparently being quite melodramatic, even corny by today's standards of entertainment--but Schubert's music remains forever charming.

Maestro Boskovsky, perhaps better remembered as a conductor of German waltz music, especially the Strauss family, does a good job with this light music from Schubert. Things begin with an overture, which Schubert didn't have time to write, so concert performances usually use either the one we have here, written a year earlier for Alfonso and Estrella, or the one from 1820 for the fairy-tale play Die Zauberharfe ("The Magic Harp").

Boskovsky takes a characteristically chipper view of the music, even if the story was evidently rather depressing (some referred to it as "a grand romantic play"). Not that Boskovsky doesn't sufficiently address the more-dramatic elements; he does. It's just that his interpretation dwells more on the purely sweet, lilting aspects of the score, allowing a free flow of rhythms throughout.

Willi Boskovsky
In addition, there's the matter of tempos. In comparison to the aforementioned Masur performance, Boskovsky is consistently faster. He's faster, in fact, in every single movement (except in the overture because the conductors use two different ones). Yet Boskovsky never hurries the music. It's really lovely, dancing along as it does on its sprightly airs.

My own favorite parts of the score are the gentler sections--the ballets, andantes, and, of course, the Entr'acte No. 3. Then, too, the Staatskapelle Dresden play beautifully, and Ms. Cotrubas and the Leipzig Radio Choir add brief but effectively touching contributions to the affair.

As a bonus coupling, the program provides the overture to Die Zauberharfe, the music Schubert eventually decided would be best for the score rather than the more-hastily chosen Alfonso und Estrella, which he used for the first public performances. So, with this recording, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Producer John Mordler and engineers Horst Kunze and Gerald Junge made the recording at Lukaskirch, Dresden, Germany in March 1977. Compared to the Philips/Masur disc I had on hand, which sounds warm, spacious, dark-hued, and mellow, the Brilliant Classics/Boskovsky reissue sounds more close-up and more sharply focused. The Masur disc seems like a sixteenth-century tapestry compared to Boskovsky's twentieth-century photograph. I enjoyed the sound of both, but they are different.

Anyway, the Boskovsky recording displays a fair amount of transparency without sacrificing much in the way of natural ambience or dimensionality. Dynamics are good, too, as are stereo spread and transient response. Highs are adequate, although bass could be deeper and some midrange frequencies betray a slight degree of fuzz around the notes.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa