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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GOTHIC GLORY, 1 April 2005
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
Balancing brilliant value in performance and recording against infuriating lack of commentary in the liner, I still have to give this great set the full 5 stars.
The performance is 30 years old now, but the recording at its frequent best would draw high praise even today. The quality is not quite 100% consistent - now and again passages for full orchestra lack the spaciousness and depth that are so remarkable at many other points, and there is just a hint of distortion on Janowitz's high notes in her big scena in Act II, but these are quibbles. Far more representative of the general proficiency in the recording is the wonderful romantic aura round the even more wonderful horn playing near the start, the really terrific sense of eerie menace in the wolves' glen (with the full terror of Samiel reserved for the end) and the perfect fidelity given in general to the singing, both solo and chorus. Both Janowitz and Mathis sing like angels from on high, the huntsmen in chorus are the nimblest and most accomplished such a body that I ever heard, and the orchestral tone is gorgeous too. All this demanded full justice from the recording staff, and they have done it proud.
I personally go along with Kleiber's handling of the score in practically every way. When steadiness and calm are called for we get them - the slow start to the overture could hardly be better, nor could Agathe's great cavatina in Act III, sublimely done by Janowitz. However this reading has a spring in its step, and that as much as anything is what I love about it. It helps, obviously, to have virtuoso performers, and I have already drawn attention to the chorus in that respect. For all the Gothic shivers and goings-on, this opera is full of joie de vivre, or whatever the German is for that. Like Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Bizet, Weber was taken away from us too soon, another sacrifice to consumption. No composer's music could be less suggestive of approaching death that his. His orchestral scoring alone, deeply admired by no less a master of that art than Berlioz, is a celebration of life by itself. His melodic gift is one of the greatest there has ever been, stronger in my view than Mendelssohn's and up there with that of Berlioz and that of Verdi himself. This is what an adequate realisation of this work must bring out, not just the picturesque horrors. On this set you will hear some genuinely spontaneous-sounding laughter for one thing, and the true and vital gusto from the peasants, huntsmen and the rest of them. Obviously 'characterisation' in a lightweight and fairy-tale parallel like this to the Faust theme is broad-brush, but where this score excels is in its varied and intensely dramatic delineation of situations. This is something else the conductor must present with the utmost clarity and vividness, and I can hardly imagine it done better than it is done here. And a special mention must be made of the magnificent realisation of the scene with the hermit (der fromme Klausner for initiates) -- credit even-handedly to Kleiber and to Franz Crass.
I love dear Schumann and I love his Manfred, especially in the realisation by Beecham, but I could only sigh to think of what Weber might have done with that theme. We should be grateful for what we've got, I suppose. The entire cast cover themselves with glory, but pride of place goes to the two sopranos. Peter Schreier is what I sometimes think of as a 'mezzo-tenor', something like Mark Padmore. Theo Adam is a Wotan and a Sachs that I particularly like because of my own personal interpretation of those roles, but even those who think him lightweight in Wagner surely must have no such reservations about his Kaspar. The men are all fine, but it's the women here who make the really big impression - them and the orchestra. Not to mention the chorus and the conductor. Nor do I overlook the recording personnel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but the best available; get it for Janowitz, 14 Jan 2013
By 
O. G. M. Morgan (Hants, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
You either love "Der Freischuetz" for its music, or you don't love it. The plot is so ridiculous that it makes "The Magic Flute" seem coherent. As luck would have it, though, Weber did take the trouble to bless his greatest work with some gorgeous music, both for the orchestra and for the voice, especially for the soprano voice.

If you've never heard the voice of Gundula Janowitz, hear it now. She never sings a wrong note, or even a faintly ugly one. After Grace Bumbry's incomparable Verdi Requiem (BBC, Philharmonia, Giulini), this has to be my favourite recording of any solo voice. It stands to reason, I suppose, that no-one else on the recording matches Janowitz, but the cast is very good overall. Peter Schreier never had the most beautiful tenor tone, but he hits all the notes and fits the character excellently; Max is a hero and an anti-hero, at the same time, so Schreier's tuneful sub-Heldentenor voice suits the role well. Edith Mathis would steal the performance, in the presence of any other soprano than Janowitz. Theo Adam's tone is slightly harsh, but he makes an imposing baddie.

I don't entirely subscribe to the worship of Carlos Kleiber, because there were as many misses as hits among his famously rare recordings, but this has to be one of his definite successes. Under his direction, the Dresden Staatskapelle plays with superb discipline (it was, we should recall, an era when not playing so could mean a long stay in the company of the Stasi). The recording is pre-digital by some years, but it's as good as the best from the time, well re-mastered.

The reason I can't give this set five stars is that the members of the singing cast are shadowed by a speaking cast, to deliver the dialogue. I assume that this is part of the East German myth of "full employment", but it sounds ridiculous. All of the speakers over-act disastrously. Poor old Edith Mathis has an alter-ego who seems to belong in a straitjacket. This was a common characteristic of East German opera recordings with spoken dialogue. The same singers, anywhere else, tended to be able to deliver spoken lines quite happily for themselves, since it was what they did automatically in any staged production.

What raises this above the other recent(-ish) recordings is the combination of orchestra, conductor and soloists, Janowitz above all. Harnoncourt is as good a conductor as Kleiber, with another fine German orchestra, but saddled himself (intentionally, it seems) with a woefully inadequate Max. It's a shame, because Luba Orgonasova is the closest recent rival to Janowitz. When released, Marek Janowski's performance received inexplicable praise for the main soprano, Sharon Sweet, but she is the poorest performer in an otherwise excellent cast. Peter Seiffert, an outstanding Parsifal in his day, sings the role of Max as beautifully as anyone. Perhaps, he lacks the vulnerability of Schreier, but it's the best recent recording of the role and worth hearing, if you can track it down.

I think it's a shame that the Dresden/Kleiber recording wins, more or less, by being the last version available of this wonderfully tuneful opera. The preposterously badly executed spoken dialogue jars from the very first hearing. There is room for a new "Freischuetz". Where in heaven will they find a new Janowitz?
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kleiber or Keilberth in this Gothic mega-hit?, 25 Feb 2012
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
I compare these two recordings for several main reasons: they usually head the field in recommendations for the best version to buy; they were the first two I heard, almost simultaneously, when as an teenager I was first becoming enraptured by opera; lastly, I happen to own and play both and listen to them with pretty much equal enjoyment. Neither is perfect but they certainly do justice to this wonderful period-piece which made the sadly short-lived Weber famous throughout Europe.

I first heard the Wolf's Glen scene in an EMI sampler LP of operatic highlights and still feel that it is the most atmospheric ever recorded - better than the Kleiber version which, although still effective, doesn't quite capture the Gothic chill and has a rather ordinary-voiced Samiel compared with the hard, abrasive Fritz Hoppe for Keilberth. Where Kleiber particularly scores is in the crowd scenes with the dances and choruses. It was a on a remainder bin LP - only the first LP of the set - that I heard his overture and the opening scene with its natural-sounding crowd noises, mocking laughter and galumphing peasants struck me as enormously invigorating music-making; Kleiber takes the whole thing at a clip and really injects life into proceedings. Keilberth is steadier and more staid, with the grander-sounding BPO but his is also an affectionate and beautifully played account.

I give Kleiber five stars even though I readily admit an antipathy to Peter Schreier's throaty, nasal tenor. I really cannot comprehend how some find his pinched voice beautiful but he is impassioned and characterful here, sounding really desperate as Max, so I let it pass. Schock has a more conventionally baritonal heroic tenor and sings agreeably if a tad blandly. Dramatic verisimilitude is enhanced by the fact that Keilberth's singers deliver their own dialogue whereas for Kleiber a very truncated script is employed and actors are used, with the usual mismatch between singing and speaking voices. That abridgement also means that some famous lines are cut, such as that quoted by Bismarck in the Reichstag in 1849: "Glaubst du, dieser Adler sei dir geschenkt?" ("Do you think you get this eagle for nothing?").

Regarding the leading ladies in both versions, all are superb. There is little to choose between two of the loveliest German post-war sopranos in Elisabeth Grümmer and Gundula Janowitz, both of whom were lyric sopranos who could sing the lighter Wagner roles and to whose silvery voices I could listen all night. Both Lisa Otto and Edith Mathis are delightful as Ännchen. I prefer Karl Christian Kohn's mostly focused, black-voiced Kaspar for Keilberth to Theo Adam (sometimes unkindly known by his non-admirers as "Mr Wobble", but passable for Kleiber). Both hermits are impressive, even if a younger-voiced Franz Crass is steadier than the veteran Gottlob Frick - but both bring the requisite kindly gravitas to the role. The Leipzig chorus is livelier and interpretatively freer than the more "operatic" Berliners; the latter are less animated in their hailing of Kilian and barracking of Max but only comparatively speaking and they respond credibly in little incidents such as when Max draws a knife on Kilian. Both conductors relish the Bauer element in the music. There are a few clumsy tape edits on the EMI recording and its 1958 stereo sound, although fine, is less immediate than the fuller but slightly toppy DG recording from 1973.

DG have committed a firearms solecism in depicting what is clearly a more modern, double-barrelled shotgun; a marksman like Max would have been using some kind of primitive rifle capable of firing only bullets (magic or otherwise), not shot, whether it be single, double or even triple barrelled.

I cannot choose between these two admirable versions but can endorse both as excellent, faithful renditions which do honour to a seminal German opera.
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4.0 out of 5 stars bravo Kleiber . . . but the singers should sue, 20 Mar 2014
By 
Stanley Crowe (Greenville, SC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
Most of the reservations expressed about this set by past reviewers have to do with the singing. I would say that the problem is the sound of the singing, which isn't quite the same thing. But first, hats off to Kleiber -- there's energy, gracefulness, and creepiness as needed in his conducting, and the Dresden brass are showcased to great effect. So much of the charm of this opera has to do with orchestral texture, and that is very well presented here. Is he too fast for optimal expression? I haven't heard alternatives (the Harnoncourt looks tempting), and I didn't feel that things were too rushed. So . . . five stars to Kleiber . . .

But the singers are put at a severe disadvantage by the engineers, and it's a credit to them that they sound as good as they do. I agree that Schreier is punching a bit above his weight here, but he has a lovely voice for Mozart, Bach, lieder. If he sounds here like a smallish voice boosted by the engineers, that's not his fault. He sings expressively, but like all the singers, he's far too upfront in the aural picture, to an extent that one can't help but be aware of the artificiality of the voice placements. Edith Mathis is too close too, but she sounds pretty good. Gundula Janowitz is the one who suffers -- her high singing comes across as glassy and hooty -- not pleasant at all. Her bigger (than Mathis) voice just isn't handled well by the microphone placements. We know from other recordings that Janowitz doesn't sound like this. Adding to the sense of artificiality is the bad old DGG policy of using actors in the speaking parts of Singspiels. In this opera especially, when the spoken and sung are so close together in some scenes, it just isn't convincing. Kleiber is working hard in the Wolf's Glen scene, and the speaker of Kaspar doesn't credibly sound like Theo Adam. It doesn't help either that voice of Samiel isn't darker and creepier -- we need a German James Earl Jones there!

I should say that listen with good headphones. Is it possible that in ambient space with good speakers I would feel differently . . .? Maybe. But I really felt that the singers were really badly treated here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars All the better for being on disc, 8 Dec 2012
By 
Diane Byett "Working Mother" (E.Sussex. UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
Having known this recording for possibly 25+ years and owning the 3 cassettes from that time, I am delighted with the CD. It's a marvellous recording and seemingly still the best around.

I am transported to wonderful mid-European rural scenes every time I hear it. It is my favourite opera for its sheer exuberance and vitality. Not a bad story either!
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Quality Rendition of an Opera not Often Seen on the Stage, 29 Jun 2011
By 
Mr. S. Millman "Busbybabe" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) (Audio CD)
I am not not in any way trained in music nor am I a proper music buff. However, I enjoy classical music, have a reasonable collection of CDs and go to the opera around 4 times a year. I have never seen Freischuetz performed.
Turning to this recording: first, I like Freischuetz. For me it is something of the style of The Magic Flute - my favourite opera - because it is in German, has some passages of spoken dialogue (which can make the plot easier to follow than all arias or recitative): I suppose that technically makes it Singspiel, and has a plot involving magic. The second reason I like it is that the music is genuinely enjoyable and has some original and striking passages. Thirdly, to my ear this is an excellent performance - much better than the Harnoncourt which is my other CD version of Freischuetz. What more can I say?
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Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals)
Weber: Der Freischütz (DG The Originals) by Carl Maria von Weber (Audio CD - 1998)
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