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Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz; Oberon
26 Oct 2006

WEBER: Der Freischütz; Oberon

The demise of Tower Records adds another hurdle to the collector's challenge in acquiring rare performances on obscure labels.

Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz; Oberon

Der Freischütz: James King, Margaret Price, Helen Donath, Karl Ridderbusch, Mario Ferrara, Anton Diakov, Andrezj Snarski, Mario Machì, Rolf Tasna, Carmen Lavani, Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI, Wolfgang Sawallisch (cond.)
Live recording, Rome, January 27, 1973

Oberon: Werner Hollweg, Hanna Schwarz, Olivera Miljakovic, Ingrid Bjöner, Julia Hamari, Joseph Hering, Siegmund Nimsgern, Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI, George Alexander Albrecht (cond.)
Live recording, Rome, February 7, 1973

Ponto PO-1045 [3CDs]

$17.98  Click to buy

The degree of that impediment feels steeper with the release on the Ponto label of two 1973 Rome RAI broadcast performances of Carl Maria von Weber's masterpiece, Der Freischütz, paired with his flawed but fascinating last work, Oberon. The Der Freischütz in particular captures an exemplary cast, under the idiomatic leadership of conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch. With that extra, visceral charge of a live performance (albeit not a staged one), Weber's opera comes to life as it hasn't consistently done in the studio. With the German-language Oberon (originally composed to an English libretto) as a supplement, this recording becomes a must-buy for lovers of early Romantic opera.

James King and Margaret Price, the Max and Agathe of Der Freischütz, are captured in their prime, and both invest their roles with both dramatic involvement and tonal appeal. Karl Ridderbusch's Kaspar has the requisite Satanic tinge in his dark delivery, and Helen Donath shines forth in her lovely act three showpiece. The whole performance hangs together so naturally that it revives the lingering question as to why this opera, once a mainstay of the repertory, now qualifies as a relative rarity.

And if Der Freischütz can be called rare, what to say about Oberon? It lives on today in its overture, set in the same mold as that of Der Freischütz's but with its own memorable thematic material. The booklet essay by Andrew Palmer relates how this opera's composition apparently literally proved fatal to von Weber. Perhaps if he had lived he would have been able to make or insist on revisions to the libretto that would make the piece more stageworthy. However, as a pure listening experience, the music need make no excuses. Although often more the work of an experienced craftsman than an inspired artist, that craftsmanship still supplies consistently appealing music. The cast doesn't quite match the standard set by that of Der Freischütz's, with Werner Hollweg's homely tone and Ingrid Bjoner's substantive soprano not always having the flexibility von Weber's score demands. So a better cast can be imagined, but this cast sings well enough to showcase the strengths of the opera. George Alexander Albrecht handles the baton here.

Ponto provides the referenced essay and artist biographies, but regrettably no synopses, except for some sketchy descriptions in the essay. Still, for the budget price Ponto asks, that omission can't mar the appeal of this entirely enjoyable set. Collectors, commence your search now.

Chris Mullins

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