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Graf / Sultan – Florian Boesch

Suleika – Cornelia Horak

Grafin/Fatime – Letizia Scherrer

Speaker – Kurt Sternick

Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg & KornmarktChor – cond Christophe Eberle


OEHMS Classics – OC 903

Live Recording from Bregenz Festival 2003 – 2 CDs – 107 minutes


The score for Der Graf von Gleichen as Schubert left it was little more than a sketch. For some arias he had noted down just a one-line melody, for others he had at least outlined his ensemble – most tantalisingly there are places where his manuscript is illegible or indecipherable – and the finale is completely absent.


That was the point at which composer Richard Dunser was commissioned to produce a completed performing version for Schubert's 1997 anniversary year.


The comparative success or failure of such exercises will always be a matter for debate, but I would judge this one favourably. Dunser makes no attempt to follow Schubertian practice in a slavish way, rather we are presented with a suggestion of how that composer might have developed the fragments if writing for a twentieth century orchestra. The “gaps” are covered by a commendably concise spoken narration that provides continuity without fracturing the musical atmosphere.


The choruses, variously slaves, harvesters and pilgrims, are particularly successful, and help set the scene for this extremely unlikely 13th century ménage a trois of Crusading Count, Countess and Eastern Princess. Everyone behaves with remarkable tolerance and generosity of spirit: the Sultan releases his noble prisoner, nobody turns a hair when his daughter Suleika decides to convert to Christianity and depart with him, and the Countess (who like Penelope has been patiently awaiting her husband's return) welcomes Suleika into the household as his second wife.


The CD is a live recording made at the Bregenz Festival, and sound balance falls a little short of ideal. The cast are excellent, with economy dictating a fair amount of doubling up of roles. Florian Boesch (who at the time of writing has recently been awarded one of Russia 's prestigious Gelden Mask Awards for his performance as Pappageno at the Bolshoi Opera) combines the title role with that of his captor the Sultan. He very nearly gets to sing a recit dialogue with himself, but the narrator interposes for a few seconds, before his voice re-emerges in quite different colouring for his second persona. Having seen him in recital at Wigmore Hall www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/boesch_2.htm, I am sure he acted the change of character even more eloquently!


Letizia Scherrer is also a singer whose voice commands attention, bringing a real beauty of tone to the magnanimous Grafin.


Serena Fenwick