The Overture was intended for Grillparzer’s fragmentary poetic drama of the same name, published in 1861. Esther is one of those books in the Bible in which religion has no place, and honour but a trifling one. It commences with the putting aside of Queen Vashti for disobedience – a course which might well have had appeal to d’Albert – and with the successful petitioning by Esther, the new Queen, for the right of her own Jewish people to avenge a plot against them. The background, then, is of the charm and discretion of Esther in the context of courtly magnificence, intrigue and violence.
The Overture opens with a striking declamatory statement in A major, but is countered by a gentle woodwind passage. On the repeat of this process, a solo horn announces an appealing contrasting subject in C major. The pace quickens to a climax, and a calmer section follows, eventually ushering in a new theme, making its elegant curtseys on the woodwind in the dominant key, in which the oboe also announces a rustic variant of the second subject.
D’Albert, however, is skilful in his use of the shifting perspectives offered by frequent modulation and by a recapitulation which substantially reverses the order of the material; and in the end Esther’s charms yield to (or win, depending upon your perspective) the magnificent condescension of her husband King Ahasuerus.
from notes by John Purser © 2004