Schubert’s complete Rosamunde in Vienna

It was certainly enticing. The illustrious Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the venerable Nikolaus Harnoncourt were at home in the Musikverein giving a rare outing for the complete incidental music which Schubert wrote for the play Rosamunde. In some respects, it was not disappointing. The orchestra has a remarkable sense of balance and ensemble playing and were sensitive to the nuances in Harnoncourt’s direction. But what opportunity for nuances was there in the piece? For the purpose of giving it some dramatic potential, the Maestro from the podium led us through the (simple) story of Helmina von Chézy’s play and even had two voices speaking critical lines from among the chorus. But in truth once the familiar overture had been played one waited what seemed like a long time for the Schubert magic to re-emerge. It did eventually as the heroine abandons oppressive courtly life to return to the shepherds for pastoral bliss. Some really original orchestral fortissimo passages were succeeded by fine choral writing and a moving song for a fisherman’s widow – admirably sung by Wiebke Lehmkuhl. But twenty minutes of Schubertian inventiveness and charm was not enough to sustain the performance as a whole. And, if truth be told, I would have been prepared to give up those twenty minutes for just half a dozen of the songs which featured in Oxford’s marvellous recent Schubert Lieder Festival;  for that is where the true genius of Schubert lay.