Euryanthe – Overture
Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn – Overture
Oberon – Overture
Der Beherrscher der Geister – Overture
Turandot – Overture and Act II March
Preciosa – Overture
Silvana – Overture
Abu Hassan – Overture
Der Freischütz – Overture
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 13-15 July 2006 in Wellington Hall, New Zealand
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2009
CD No: NAXOS 8.570296
Duration: 76 minutes
One thing conspicuous about this release is its generosity. Previous, and still recommendable, releases on compact disc that hark back to LP days (such as collections conducted by Karajan, Deutsche Grammophon, and Sawallisch, EMI) were inevitably constrained by that medium’s playing-time. Yet Weber’s overtures tend to be uneven in quality, so quite naturally the choices were of the masterworks. Maybe that’s all we need, yet to have all his overtures (Jubel is of the ‘concert’ variety, the rest are preludes to stage works – whether Singspiel, incidental music or opera) is very handy – only music from “Die drei Pintos”, and anyway that’s an entr’acte, which Mahler completed, is ‘missing’ – especially as the performances are (for the most part) excellent. One drawback though is the sound; in full-orchestra fortissimos (and louder), the reproduction is coarse-grained and overblown (too reverberant), which is a real pity; at lower dynamics, all is fine.
The overture to “Euryanthe” makes a good start to this Naxos disc; it bounds-in with energy and finds the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under the experienced Antoni Wit, playing responsively and with enjoyment, Wit himself vividly characterising the music (excellent timpani detail) if somewhat overdoing the rhetoric in the final pages. “Peter Schmoll and his Neighbours” (not the most alluring of titles!) is no great shakes as a piece, although it has its Beethovenian moments and passages of charm; it also has here a performance that seems to believe in every note.
The opening horn solo to “Oberon”, however nicely played, isn’t quite as enchanted as ideal (that comes later with the strings). There’s much affection here, if a tendency to sectionalise, but this performance of a high-point in 19th-century Romantic music is never less than enjoyable (and probably best placed at the end of the disc – it was, after all, more or less the last music that Weber wrote at the end of his relatively short life. Indeed, the order of pieces should have been ordered to match the chronological booklet note, but is as listed.
There are two underrated gems here. “The Ruler of the Spirits” begins with a brilliant overture – driven and brazen (with some lovely melodies thrown in) – and Wit comes close to matching Karajan’s supreme version; and “Abu Hassan” – short, cheeky and coloured with ‘Turkish’ percussion – and, again, brought off with zest and a fine ear for detail (but, really, the excesses of the hall should have been tamed). Weber’s music for “Turandot” continues Weber’s attraction to the exotic and borrows a Chinese melody, one that was destined to travel further – to Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. He did rather more with it than did Weber – for the ‘March’ in Act Two (not separately tracked here) is more or less the same as the Overture: one playing should last you a lifetime!
The other notable here is “Der Freischütz”, given a performance that is disciplined if not as ‘magical’ as might be, but with no shortage of strength of purpose. Of the remaining overtures – to “Preciosa” and “Silvana”, and the royal celebration that is Jubel, in the former Weber is off to Spain for his subject-matter (quite a nice piece, with some stylised dance rhythms), whereas “Silvana” begins like Schubert before slipping into something quite jocular and skittish as well as compassionate. Jubel is both grand and energetic, lacking distinction, if not determination.
Overall, despite reservations, a pleasing (and useful) collection.