Maximilian Schmitt, Jessica Muirhead, Heiko Trinsinger, Tamara Banješević, Martijn Cornet (voices); Essen Philharmonic/Tomáš Netopil
Oehms OC 988 118:18 mins (2 discs)
Der Freischütz is a problem. Do you live with Friedrich Kind’s creaky libretto or should you rewrite a Romantic musical masterpiece for our own times? Judging from the cover of the accompanying booklet, this live recording from the Aalto Arts Centre at Essen wants its cake and intends to eat it too. While the spoken dialogue is given the lightest of prunings, we see Max and Kaspar in three-piece suits seeming to have strayed into a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
Weber’s groundbreaking opera obviously needs a konzept nowadays, but a well-drilled chorus is also essential and the Essen choristers are exemplary, reminding the listener that what passes for virtue in this work is essentially their idea of community. The huntsmen and Agathe’s bridesmaids with their volkish melodies are the moral counterweight to all the black magic in the Wolf’s Glen. Der Freischütz also requires a conductor who relishes the composer’s particular instrumentation; and Tomáš Netopil lets horns and strings and clarinet sing their own songs from the very start of the overture, while the clarinet solo that introduces Max’s number ‘Durch die Walde’ is liquid magic.
There’s a workmanlike cast of soloists. Maximilian Schmitt is a useful Romantic tenor as Max, though stretched in the upper register, and Jessica Muirhead is a touchingly anxious Agathe. Heiko Trinsinger’s Kaspar is dark in voice and deed and Tamara Banjesvic is suitably pert as Ännchen. If only Tijl Faveyt’s Ermit, who saves the day for Max and Agathe, had been as spirited.