This is Sir Colin Davis’s final opera recording. Weber’s tale of true love pitted against dark supernatural forces—one of the seminal works of early German romanticism—was given two concert performances in the Barbican Hall. Shortly after these, Sir Colin had an accident that marked the beginning of his withdrawal from conducting commitments, and he died on April 14 this year. This release is a fitting tribute for a conductor who knew precisely what he wanted in terms of expression and colour, and who was blessed by having an orchestra—the LSO (of which he had been both Principal Conductor and President)—that could deliver it. Their rapport is palpable. As with Berlioz, the sound Sir Colin creates—a light vibrato, edgy brass, characterful woodwinds—describes the style beautifully, with plenty of atmosphere, a stimulating attention to detail and a constant undertow of momentum. The result is vivid, decisive and full of verve. Davis hits the ground running in the big gestures of the Overture, and sustains that level of impact throughout. Occasionally Simon O’Neill (as lovelorn Max, who’s lost his sharp-shooting mojo) is overwhelmed by the orchestra, but for the most part his ardour and lyricism suit the role perfectly, and Lars Woldt (a late replacement at the time for Falk Struckmann) has commendable weight and attack as evil Kaspar.
Sir Colin’s sense of drive means that Agathe doesn’t get too overloaded by her goodness. Christine Brewer supplies generosity of tone and spirit, particularly so in her big Act Two scena. As a dramatic foil to Agathe, Sally Matthews is admirable as Ännchen—light but not too soubrette and full of charm. Stephan Loges chills the marrow in fine style as Zamiel, the dark hunter, and the hermit (who steers the story to a happy conclusion) is sung with great presence by Gidon Saks. The London Symphony Chorus is on top form, not least in the ‘Wolf’s Glen’ scene in which the singers create some startlingly spooky sounds. Spoken dialogue is minimal, although the booklet’s synopsis goes some way to clarifying the plot.
The ghostly melodrama and other ingredients of this romantic opera (the horn-playing and instrumental solos are terrific) come across with such vigour and immediacy that it’s hard to realise that Sir Colin Davis is no longer here to continue generating his special magic.