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Briefly Noted: Colin Davis's 'Der Freischütz'

available at Amazon
Weber, Der Freischütz, C. Brewer, S. Matthews, S. O'Neill, L. Woldt, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, C. Davis

(released on May 14, 2013)
LSO Live LS00726 | 122'43"
One way to celebrate the Richard Wagner bicentenary -- he was born on this day in 1813 -- is to spend the day listening to one of the composers from whom he stole shamelessly. Wagner was only eight years old when Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz was premiered in Berlin, in June 1821, but the work, generally thought of as the first great German Romantic opera, had a powerful influence on the young Wagner. The score is an odd mixture of the spine-shivering (the Wolf's Glen scene, to be sure, but also some gorgeous soprano writing for the role of Agathe) and the oom-pah-pah banal (the waltz scene and, as fun as it is, the lusty hunters' chorus). It happened to be one of the last projects of the late conductor Colin Davis, whose live recording with the London Symphony Orchestra was released last week.

It is a flawed product in many ways, beginning with the omission of the German dialogue, meaning that right off the bat one is not expected to experience it as a dramatic narrative. (On the other hand, those who do not understand German or want to follow a translation can just focus on the music.) Tenor Simon O'Neill is quite fine as Max, although the occasionally nasal sound, tendency to scoop, and accented German makes him seem like a rube, while Lars Woldt has a pleasing dark snarl as the doomed Kaspar. Christine Brewer is strong in the role of Agathe, but with a few edges unburnished, the price of live recording. The same goes for some sketchy moments here and there in the playing of the LSO, meaning that this version is unlikely to unseat the general favorite, the incendiary studio recording made by Carlos Kleiber and the Dresden Staatskapelle in the 1970s (watch Kleiber rehearsing the opera, in a different performance, on YouTube), and now available in re-release at a budget price. Still, as I listened with headphones, the occasional humming and singing of Colin Davis seemed captured on the recording, adding an unclassifiable element of nostalgia to this 2-CD set.

If only Wagner will do today, tune in for the broadcast of the gala concert from the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, conducted by Christian Thielemann, which starts at 4:25 pm EDT. Yesterday, Thielemann led another Wagner gala in Dresden, with tenor Jonas Kaufmann, which at some point will be available for online streaming.

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