EIF Review, 18 August 2004
Jonas Green
von Weber: Der Freischütz, Edinburgh, 17 August 2004
Der Freischütz
Usher Hall
Der Freischütz is an important work for many reasons: it is the first of Weber's three mature operas, it is a key transitional step between Singspiel and German romantic opera; and it contains much fine music and imaginative orchestral writing which was to influence Berlioz and others. Opportunities are rare to hear one Weber opera complete, let alone three in a week. The International Festival merit the highest praise for this feat of organisation, as do the sponsors, Lloyds TSB and Scottish Widows on this occasion.

The Usher Hall was deservedly full, to hear an exemplary concert performance of the entire score. Enough of the spoken dialogue was included to carry the narrative, albeit in German but the comprehensive printed programme guided us. Certainly we had to imagine the terrors of the Wolf's Glen in a brightly-lit hall but Weber's atmospheric orchestral sounds helped considerably. Gloomy string tremolos, growling horns, sinister low woodwind, fateful hollow drumstrokes - it really was film music a century before Hollywood.

The SCO under a genial Charles Mackerras were on form, and numerically amplified for this work, though he scaled down the body of lower strings for lighter numbers. The Philharmonia Chorus were convincing peasants, huntsmen and bridesmaids - as appropriate - on their few appearances. All of the cast, we had heard, were Brian McMaster's first choices. Details such as the use of performance space, balance of sound, even the little stage band, had clearly been carefully prepared.

Men's voices predominate during the rustic evening which forms Act I. Jonas Kaufman was the hero Max in a part that suits his lighter voice, and John Relyea was his potent and sinister nemesis Kaspar. Women's voices open Act II with a domestic evening scene, and again Act III when daylight has broken at last after the devilish goings-on in the Wolf's Glen. Weber's genius puts three consecutive bright numbers here: a Cavatina for heroine bride Agathe (radiantly sung by Hillevi Martinpelto), an Aria with fine solo viola obbligato for her cousin Annchen (bright-toned young Ailish Tynan), and a chorus - one of several imitation folk-songs - with four solo bridesmaids (four current or recent students at RSAMD).

The denouement then takes a while, after another huntsmen's chorus, and words of wisdom from a Hermit (the rich bass of youthful Matthew Rose). The music here is all rather medium paced, but drawn-out finales were the taste of the times: compare Fidelio. One incidental pleasure of the evening had been in hearing the materials of the well-known Overture in their original context. Its big tune rounds off Agathe's first aria, and here it came again, to bring the work to a triumphant conclusion


  www.jkaufmann.info back top