, Thursday 19 August 2004
Tim Ashley
von Weber: Der Freischütz, Edinburgh, 17 August 2004
Der Freischütz
Listening to Weber's Der Freischütz, one always wonders what it must have sounded like to its first audiences in the early 1820s. Much has been written of its revolutionary, demotic nature and its sub-Faustian content. Yet it is, first and foremost, a Gothic horror story that necessitated the creation of a new musical language. Although copied by everyone from Wagner to the writers of horror soundtracks, it still sends shivers down your spine.

This concert performance, the first in a series examining Weber's major operas, certainly generated a frisson, despite some lapses in casting. Neither Hillevi Martinpelto as Agathe nor John Relyea as Kaspar - the agents of grace and damnationrespectively - seemed comfortable in this instance. Relyea, all slicked-back hair and brutal delivery, suggested urban thuggery rather than seductive demonism. Martinpelto sounded intermittently seraphic but registered little of Agathe's premonitory dread.

At the centre of the evening, however, was the astonishing conducting of Charles Mackerras and Jonas Kaufmann's equally exemplary Max. Mackerras turned the score into a roller-coaster ride that lurched thrillingly from tension to stasis and back. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra's playing was electric while the Philharmonia Chorus, whether indulging in demonic mockery or moral outrage, were superb. Kaufmann, meanwhile, presented Max as a potentially tragic figure - a man whose inner demons are infinitely more dangerous than the supernatural forces that assault him. His voice has gained in power, of late, without losing any of its flexible beauty and he registered every emotional shift with exceptional vividness - a reminder that Freischütz, in addition to being a great horror story, is also a remarkable study in how despair can erode the human psyche.

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