7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A great disappointment: a pedestrian performance with few highlights,
This review is from: Weber: Der Freischutz (LSO/Davis) (Audio CD)
Perhaps appropriately for an opera which concerns itself with the occult, "Der Freischuetz" does seem somewhat accursed in its recorded versions, all of which are flawed, one way or another. It's high time that that spell was broken, but, sadly, this recording isn't the one to achieve that breakthrough.
It's conducted by the late Sir Colin Davis, with Simon O'Neill as Max, Christine Brewer as Agathe and Sally Matthews as Aennchen. Brewer sings well, in general, although she does have a rather matronly tone. Sally Matthews, too, sounds a bit Wagnerian for her role; Edith Mathis (DG, Kleiber) sounded much more appropriately girlish, without losing any musical qualities. As the protagonist, O'Neill is tuneful, but not entirely ingratiating. Schreier (for Kleiber) is far better, as is Seiffert (Janowski). No-one on the present recording remotely matches Gundula Janowitz, who sings Kleiber's Agathe.
While I don't think that there is any problem with the orchestra here, I do feel that the conducting plods pretty dreadfully. Just about every other conductor of this music seems to have detected more subtlety than Davis. I wish I could be more positive about it, but I really can't. The recording doesn't even have an impressive range, so it compares unfavourably, not just with its digital rivals, but even with the 1970s Deutsche Grammophon recording. The Wolfsschlucht scene isn't very atmospheric, which is a bit fatal, since, despite its being central to the drama, this is possibly Weber's weakest music in the whole opera; it needs to have a bigger impact than it has here. The finale is largely well sung, allowing for some squawks by Brewer, reminding us, superfluously, that she isn't Janowitz, but the recording here, as elsewhere, is hopelessly devoid of depth.
The dialogue is abridged. That may seem no serious loss, since the libretto isn't exactly Shakespeare, but this convoluted plot makes even less sense without the spoken text.
Altogether, this is a pretty big disappointment. Neither of the principals really comes close to matching the best of the earlier performers in the same roles, although the Kaspar is both musically impressive and dramatically dark. The other soloists are inferior to their rivals. While the orchestra and chorus are very capable, they are let down by Jurassic standards of recording and conducting.
Kleiber remains the best buy, for the matchless Janowitz, but Janowski has the best Max, in Peter Seiffert, and is definitely worth hearing, too.