Carl Maria von Weber's opera "Der Freischütz" met with instant success on its premiere in Berlin 1821, rapidly spreading throughout Europe. Audiences identified readily with the folk melodies and hunting character of its Bohemian setting. The story tells of Max's struggle to win Agathe in marriage. The desperation which leads him to trade with the devil in order to regain his lost marksman's skills, finds resolution when fate intervenes to prevent the fatal "free bullet" from striking Agathe, saved by the sacred roses in her bridal coronet. In this Achim Freyer production from the Wüttemberg State Opera, the Huntsman's role is taken by Toni Krämer, with Caterina Ligendza as Agathe, Raili Viljakainen as Ännchen and Wolfram Raub as Samiel, under the bariton of American conductor Dennis Russell Davies.
One of the most acclaimed musicians of his era, Toscanini was a conductor of the "old school" - aristocratic, perfectionistic and something of an autocrat on the podium. After a brief flurry of interest in Fascism in the 1910s, he rapidly became disillusioned with the movement and indeed became a personal rival of Mussolini, repeatedly antagonising him through acts of artistic defiance such as refusals to open concerts with the Fascist anthem Giovinezza.
Eventually he fled Italy for the United States, becoming the first conductor of the newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he pioneered radio broadcasts and recordings that made him a household name in America until his retirement at the age of 87. He gave the premiere performances of several major works, including Barber's Adagio for Strings and the American premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.
A new recording of Weber's piano concertos was obviously long overdue, and this one fits the bill more than adequately, coming as it does generously coupled with the much better known Konzertstück and in first-rate sound quality from HMV. Not the least of its virtues is the light it casts on the origins of the piano idiom of Chopin and Liszt and, in the case of the Konzertstück, on the very foundations of the romantic concerto. I wouldn't envy any historian out to determine who was responsible for which innovation in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, but certainly to hear so many fully-formed romantic textures in music dating from 1810-21 is an instructive, not to say startling, experience.
…Rapoport’s instrument, by the way, is a copy by Oliver Cottet of a bassoon by Prudent of around 1760 – just right for the music. Dard’s prefatory note, to return to it for a last time, speaks of the desirability of performers bringing to the works "the necessary lightness and feeling". Rapoport and Dubreuil very definitely do so…