Financial Times, Aug 24, 2004
David Murray
von Weber: Der Freischütz, Edinburgh, 17 August 2004
Warm celebration of a composer's fruitful life
Usher Hall
The Edinburgh Festival is celebrating Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), and the central tribute last week consisted of concert-performances of his three major operas. Each had a different conductor, orchestra and large chorus, and a different cast of principals: an ambitious undertaking, and remarkably successful. Of the three, only Der Freischütz (1821) is reasonably familiar. It is the Ur-model of German early-Romantic opera, with its rustics living in a dark forest, rivalry, occult forces, magic bullets. The casting of those latter in the Wolf's Glen, accompanied by demonic apparitions, is a famous set-piece.

Here Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra lost nothing of its thrills and chills without the visuals, abetted by threatening roars from the Philharmonia Chorus. We did miss the black boar who is meant to crash across the stage while the bullets are poured. But the well-balanced principals included the heroic Swedish soprano Hillevi Martinpelto as the heroine Agathe, Ailish Tynan's nicely soubrettish Annchen, a ringing, virile hero in Munich tenor Jonas Kaufmann, and for the tempter Kaspar (who has sold his own soul to the devil) the American John Relyea's bass trombone-tones were formidable but none the less musical for that.

All in all, this was a performance so strong and brimming with conviction that we hardly missed the scenery. Weber's easy, original knack with orchestral colour was made luminous throughout. Though he was never much of a symphonist, his play with sound-colours is apt, deft and winningly fresh.


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