WEBER Der Freischütz
Sir Colin Davis brought his Mozart and Berlioz experience to Weber and Kind’s early Schauerromantik opera throughout his career – from his music directorship at Sadler’s Wells in the early 1960s to this late concert in April 2012. His affection is made audible here by his Toscanini-like singing along with Agathe’s music and numerous orchestral horn solos.
Yet – as in his Royal Opera House performances in 1977/78 and a studio recording made in Dresden in 1991 – parts of this score yield less well than others to Davis’s approach. No friend to historically informed sonorities, his Weber (like his Beethoven and Schubert) has remained essentially large-scale and later-Romantic. The spiky daring of the opera’s orchestration and harmony is handled gently – the dissonant smears in Act 3 as the Bridesmaids exit with their faux bouquet wreath, for example, appear politely but don’t intervene. Nowhere in either the Samiel ‘baddie’ music or the triumph of the Hermit’s humane advice at the end does Davis find the sheer malicious élan or cleansing energy that propel Erich and Carlos Kleiber’s visions. His pacing of the opening chorus – where the Kleibers feel like they’re going twice as fast and nearly are – feels sedate and cosy. In the Wolf’s Glen scene (here seriously devoid of a stage director to help pace the dialogue), Davis’s pulse can even, like Furtwängler’s, become stodgy.
Also – and it’s a big mistake – there is no dialogue here anywhere apart from in the Wolf’s Glen. So this LSO event becomes a concert of unlinked musical excerpts with jarring, unexplained leaps into Max’s ‘Nein, länger trag’ ich nicht’ and Act 3’s catharsis of ‘Schaut, o schaut, er traf die eig’ne Braut’. Kind’s suspenseful drama and words are weakened by these omissions. Then, the Wolf’s Glen suddenly does introduce an indifferent shot selection of sound effects, but they’re a disappointment.
If you lean more to the less dramatic Keilberth (EMI)/Harnoncourt (Teldec)/studio Davis (Decca) pacings of the opera, these reservations will worry you less. If Davis’s handling of the score lacks the dramatic punch of the Kleibers’ readings, there are some fine things here – his phrasing of the score’s many lyrical moments, the playing of the orchestra and the careful and exciting casting. Simon O’Neill is virtually perfect for Max, not too über-Heldentenor and not too light; Christine Brewer handles and refines her weight of tone well; Lars Woldt has the right mix of pantomine and real devilry for Caspar; Sally Matthews is a delightful and true-sounding Aennchen; and Gidon Saks’s powerful Hermit and Martin Snell’s Cuno contribute well.