Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Manfred - Dramatic Poem, with music, in three parts (1852)
Manfred - Dennis Laubenthal
Nemesis (apparition) - Regine Andratschke
Astarte (apparition) - Julia Stefanie Möller
Alpen Fairy (apparition) - Claudia Hübschmann
Gemsjäger - Aurel Bereuter
Commentator - Frank Behnke
Eva Bauchmüller (soprano); Lisa Wedekind (mezzo); Soon Yeong Shim (tenor); Lukas Schmid (bass)
Choir soloists: Lars Hübel, Kiyotaka Mizuno, Hee-Sung Yoon
Konzertchor Münster, Philharmonischer Chor Münster; Sinfonieorchester Münster/Fabrizio Ventura
rec. Theater Münster im Rahmen eines Sinfoniekonzertes, 28 April, 3 May 2015

Think of a musical realisation of Byron’s Manfred and more often than not Tchaikovsky’s mighty Manfred Symphony comes to mind; The Naxos recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony is well worth considering.  This review of the Tchaikovsky provides an appreciation of Byron's epic poem.

Robert Schumann’s vision of Manfred is usually only remembered in the form of his Manfred Overture which has been recorded fairly often. The Overture was first performed before Schumann had completed the rest of the score. There is, however, more to Schumann’s Manfred than merely an overture and the ARS/Ventura team is to be congratulated on this lavish production.

The complete work was first performed at the Weimar Court Theatre in June 1852 under Liszt. The subject matter of Manfred, especially the theme of incestuous love, resonated strongly with the composer. This stemmed from an incident when Schumann was fifteen at the time when his eighteen-year old sister Emilie took her own life.

The whole production lasts a little over an hour and is in the form of the melodrama that was still very popular at that time. It demands considerable resources - ones that might daunt many modern concert planners. Moreover much of the material is spoken. ARS have included with this one CD a 96-page booklet that includes all the texts, spoken and sung, in German and English. The music - interludes and underscoring of spoken material - cannot be claimed to be top-notch Schumann but there is enough to merit serious consideration.

The overture, especially in the warm bright high-definition ARS sound, receives a spirited reading which can compare favourably with leading contenders in the field. Of the 21 numbered sections, there are 15 with music, either very brief or longer. The first of these is the ‘Song of the Spirits’ that Manfred summons in vain to grant him forgetfulness and oblivion from his sin. Their song is sung in a mix of lyricism — but powerfully dramatic as the spirits take their leave — and recitative by the soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass as named in the heading above. Of the other numbers, there are several that are distinctive: the charismatic cor anglais solo for the scene between Manfred and the Chamois Hunter as well as the charming ballet-like Entr’acte introducing the second act evoking the peace and serenity of a cottage amongst the Bernese Alps. Then there's the Witch (or Alpine fairy) of the Alps’ light quicksilver music that surely must have influenced Tchaikovsky’s dainty, flighty fairy spirit and the distant Requiem heard with the dialogue between the Abbot and Manfred.

This is a very worthy production that should be welcomed warmly by every Schumann enthusiast.

Ian Lace
Previous review: Nigel Harris

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