on 30 March 2012
Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz set the template for German romanticism - its juxtaposition of the natural world and the supernatural; of good versus evil and the simple country folk of the village in conflict with the daemonic terrors of "der wald" struck a chord with its 19th Century audience's psyche - despite the advances in science and education providing a more rational view of the world, the old superstitions would not diminish. Weber put this to good use - even in the technologically advanced/secular world of the 21st Century, Freischutz still conveys a message which triggers those primal fears and commmunicates on a higher level of sophistication the subconcious fears of modern man!
This is a dark-hued account of Weber's opera; not much sunlight breaks through the tightly knit canopy of this wald. Colin Davis presents the listener with a positively Wagnerian Freischutz, with consistently slow tempi darkening the mood. There are none of the delicate nuances and sprightly rhythms of, say, Carlos Kleiber's famous DG recording - the Peasants' Waltz, from Act 1, becomes a nightmarish, Landler-like plod under Davis' baton - and there is somewhat less dynamic contrast and tonal colour conveying the distinct qualities of nature and the supernatural. However, this heavyweight, more serious approach to Weber's score pays dividends - the Wolf's Glen scene has a sinister quality which is enhanced by the slower tempo generating an atmosphere all the more terrifying. The hooting owls, baying hounds, etc, may seem a little excessive, but are thrilling, nonetheless! The casting of the freikugel bullets will send a chill down your spine!
The Dresden Staatskapelle play with deeper, darker sonority for Davis; the orchestra sounding somewhat less agile than it did under Kleiber's baton. But, I prefer the orchestra in this recording - the Dresden orchestra can sound lightweight and underpowered in many recordings - not here! Karita Mattila's Agathe does have an ice-cool beauty, but is not quite the equal of Gundula Janowitz's or Elizabeth Grummer's assumptions, being less characterful in comparison. Her "Leise, leise", for example, is cool, calculated and lacking in warmth of expression. Francisco Araiza's Max is heroic enough, but a little more colour and contrast would be welcomed in Max's Act 1 aria, for example. However, his Max is one of the finest and his rich, dark tones are preferable to the hard edged, strangulated renditions of some "heroic" tenors I could mention! Ekkehard Wlaschiah's Kaspar is suitably villainous and he excels in the "drinking song". Eva Lind's Aennchen is a little weak; Lind has a small, light-toned voice which would have more impact in a less heavyweight account of Freischutz - here, despite moments of beauty, her voice is underpowered with an unappealingly excessive vibrato. Kurt Moll's Hermit has an abundance of weight and gravitas and the rest of the cast is more than adequate.
Is this the best recording of Freischutz? Yes and no. If Colin Davis' slow, dark brooding, more menacing account of the work appeals, then yes this is the best. However, one has to take into account the contributions of the singers, and Kleiber's DG cast shines more brightly, in my opinion. Then there's the old Keilberth/EMI recording to consider - Elizabeth Grummer's Agathe is second to none! Oh! And there's also Kubelik's glorious Decca Freischutz with Kollo and Behrens to confuse the potential purchaser even more...
My advice? Buy them all!