Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin - Weber - Gramophone

The impetus for this recording appears to be that both Der Freischütz and the F minor Konzertstück were posthumously premiered in what’s now (following extensive post-war renovation) the Konzerthaus Berlin. If you fail to find poetry in this historical link, rest assured that the musical delights on offer are justification enough.

Martin Helmchen gives real substance to the Konzertstück by incorporating the profusion of flashy runs and roulades into long-breathed, expressive phrases, and also in the way he renders details exquisitely yet without exaggeration. As a result, even a simple arpeggiated passage (as at 14'28") becomes a thing of jewel-like beauty. Eschenbach and the orchestra deserve credit, too, for they match Helmchen’s deft touch and broad colour palette. Note, too, how the strings’ spectral tone immediately sets the frightful scene Aennchen paints in her Act 3 Romanze. Soprano Anna Prohaska is a marvellous storyteller, although it’s her viscous legato that impresses me most – note, for instance, how effectively she uses it in the brief recitative to add sincerity to her emotional plea to Agathe.

As for the three overtures, each abounds with felicities – the burnished, finely balanced horns in Freischütz, say, the airy, buoyant grace of Oberon, and the way Eschenbach’s relatively relaxed tempo for The Ruler of the Spirits allows the music to dance rather than sprint, as it does in Howard Griffiths’s invigorating account (CPO, 4/16).

I do wish we’d been given another overture (or two), or one of the concerted works for clarinet featuring the orchestra’s principal Ralf Forster, whose solos in Freischütz and Oberon are so arresting – there’s certainly room for more. Still, the programme as it stands is quite satisfying and very handsomely recorded, too.

01 August 2021