Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz (1817) [134:19]
Karl Paul - Ottokar, a Bohemian prince (baritone)
Werner Faulhaber - Cuno, a hereditary forester (bass)
Elfride Trötschel, - Agathe, Cuno’s daughter (soprano)
Irma Beilke - Aennchen, a young relative of Agathe (soprano)
Bernd Aldenhoff - Max, assistant huntsman (tenor)
Kurt Böhme - Caspar, assistant huntsman (bass)
Hans Kremer - A Hermit (bass)
Hannes Haegele - Samiel, the Black Huntsman (speaker)
Karl-Heinz Thomann - Killian, a rich peasant (tenor)
Staatskapelle Chorus/Georg Seifert
Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe
rec. 20-22 May 1951, Large hall of Dresden Hygiene Museum, Dresden, Germany
Bonus material: Recording of radio interview in German with set designer Karl von Appen [2:53]
Four arias from 1944 recording of Der Freischütz from the Semperoper, Dresden [23:42]
No texts provided
PROFIL EDITION PH10032 [3 CDs: 43:39 + 45:10 + 67:50]
This set of Weber’s opera Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) is volume 5 of Hänssler’s Semperoper Edition series. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Weber’s death in 1826 this recording was made in May 1951 by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk. It also marked the 1000th performance of Der Freischütz in Dresden which was given on 21 October 1951. When planning this recording the Dresden Semperoper could not be used as it had been destroyed by Allied bombers in 1945 and its reconstruction was only completed in 1985. Rather than use the extremely busy multi-purpose Staatstheater in Dresden the recording was made in the large hall of the Dresden Hygiene Museum which was being used temporarily as an improvised recording studio. Music director and recording supervisor Hans-Hendrik Wehding made the recording sessions on magnetic tape and experimented with “pseudo-stereophony” to produce spatial effects. This set of three CDs has been re-mastered from the original Dresden Radio Station recordings. Curiously we are not told when the Der Freischütz recording session from the Hygiene Museum studio was first broadcast.
Completed in 1817 the three act Der Freischütz is generally considered as the first influential German Romantic opera. Based on German folk legends it is set in Bohemia in the middle of the 17th century.It was premièred in June 1821 at the Schauspielhaus, Berlin. Capturing the Nationalist fever that was prevalent in the country it soon became a hit with German audiences. Weber and Der Freischütz are inextricably linked with the Saxon capital city of Dresden. In 1817 Weber was appointed as director to the Dresden opera and made the city his home. It was in Dresden that he wrote Der Freischütz in conjunction with librettist Friedrich Kind. Although he died on a conducting tour in London in 1826 aged only 39, some years later his remains were taken back to the family vault in Dresden. Der Freischütz was the last opera staged at the Semperoper before it was destroyed by bombing in 1945 and the first to be staged when it reopened in 1985.
Whilst listening to the overture I was immediately struck by the quality of the sixty year old sound and the glorious playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden. Apart from a touch of brightness in the forte passages the sound is most appealing. Der Freischütz has four main characters. Agathe, Cuno’s daughter is a soprano role sung by Elfride Trötschel. Generally considered a supporting soprano role Aennchen the young relative of Agathe is taken by Irma Beilke. Bernd Aldenhoff plays the tenor role of assistant huntsman Max. Caspar another assistant huntsman a bass part is taken by Kurt Böhme.
Right from the vigorous ‘peasant march’, sung so enthusiastically by the lusty chorus, I was confident that I was in for a listening treat. Dresden-born Elfride Trötschel as Agathe has a great scene and aria in act 2 ‘Wie nahte mir der Schlummer … Leise, leise fromme Weise’ (‘My eyelids droop in slumber… Softly sighing, day is dying’) and is in glorious voice. Her creamy, soft-edged, rich lyric voice has considerable projection with definite mezzo qualities. I love the way Trötschel soars to the high notes and her diction is ideal. The beautifully sung act 3 cavatina ‘Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle’ (‘Through clouds obscure still shines the sun in radiant sky’) sits mainly in the high register before becoming set in her rich and attractive mid to low range. Trötschel’s death from cancer aged only 44 deprived the music world of a very fine singer. Aennchen played by Berlin soprano Irma Beilke has a highly attractive arietta in act 2 ‘Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegange’ (‘Comes a homely boy a-wooing’). Beilke has a bright, girl-like coquettish voice and clear diction. I found her projection a touch jerky with a noticeable yet unobtrusive vibrato. Agathe and Aennchen’s act 2 duet ‘Schelm, halt fest!’ (‘Rogue, hold fast, I will teach you.’) was highly enjoyable with the impressive voices of Trötschel and Beilke making an agreeable contrast.
Max played by the Duisburg tenor Bernd Aldenhoff in his act 1 aria ‘Durch die Wälder’ (‘Through woods and fields’) is smooth, fluid and expressive. Bright in the high registers the tenor tends to take noticeable leaps up to his top notes. There’s a starring performance from Kurt Böhme as Caspar in ‘Hier im ird'schen Jammerthal’ (‘Here in this vale of tears’). His aria that closes act 1 ‘Schweig! damit dich Niemand wart’ (‘Silence, let no one warn him’) is glorious. The Dresden bass has an impressive rich, dark timbre in his mid to low register and sings splendidly in tune.
The famous ‘Wolf’s Glen’ scene that concludes act 2 where Caspar and Samiel the Black Huntsman cast their magic bullets is outstandingly played by the Staatskapelle Dresden who create an unsettling sense of dark supernatural powers.
As a fill-up the third disc contains a short 3 minute interview in German with the set designer Karl von Appen. In addition, just months before the Dresden Semperoper was destroyed, there is a fascinating 24 minutes of arias from a marvellous 1944 recording of Der Freischütz on the Semperoper stage conducted by Karl Elmendorff. This time Elfride Trötschel shines in the role of Aennchen and Margarete Teschemacher plays Agathe.
For Profil the 90 page booklet is lavishly produced with several marvellous historical photographs. Sadly I have to report that there are no texts provided which is a significant omission.
This 1951 recording of Der Freischütz is more than a mere historical document the quality of its singing makes this a real winner.  

Michael Cookson 

More than a mere historical document. The quality of the singing makes this a real winner.