Weber: Der Freischütz
Once the most popular of German operas, Der Freischütz is seldom seen on stage. Glyndebourne’s revival of Euryanthe aside, only the overtures from Weber’s operas are heard regularly and then, as with this live recording from Sir Colin Davis’s Barbican performances in April 2012, only in concert. This was to be Sir Colin’s last opera recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, and along with the dense greenery, gothic horror and beribboned wedding festivities depicted in the 1820 score, it is impossible to listen without picturing his gestures on the podium.
This is a sincere reading of the work, but sincerity should not be confused with a lack of sophistication. The orchestral textures are pristine, the tempos and colours bracing and plaintive, with faultless work from clarinettist Chris Richards. Were this just Sir Colin and his orchestra, it would be a five-star recording. Sadly, the casting is uneven and although the LSO’s large amateur chorus sings with a bright, clear tone and tremendous enthusiasm, the Invisible Spirits’ calls of ‘Uhui! Uhui!’ need less gusto and more greasepaint. Among an excellent supporting cast, Sally Matthews (Ännchen) and Stephan Loges (Samiel) stand out. It’s a pity that Matthews wasn’t promoted to the role of Agathe, for Christine Brewer’s magnificent voice is too unwieldy for Davis’s brisk Act I finale, and her ‘Leise, leise’ is more luxurious than light. As Max, Simon O’Neill knocks out some ringing top notes but is similarly pushed to keep up with the late, great octogenarian maestro.