MUSIC / And guess who gets all the best tunes?: Robert Cowan and Tess Knighton on Weber and Schumann rarities in the South Bank's Deutsche Romantik festival

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Mephistopheles was certainly on duty at Schumann's Scenes from Faust on Monday night. Quite apart from Thomas Hampson's incapacitating throat infection and Ian Bostridge's cold, one poor member of the audience actually collapsed at precisely the point where the fainting Gretchen cries 'Neighbour] Your smelling bottle]'

Despite such portents, Simon Keenlyside (replacing Hampson at very short notice) offered an ardent, stylishly sung Faust: linear, vibrant, light in tone and totally without affectation. If there was any shortcoming, it lay in those finer subtleties of interpretation that a musical philosopher - Fischer-Dieskau, for example - would bring to this most complex of literary figures. In the case of Margaret Price's Gretchen, however, experience paid high dividends. Her characterisation was remarkably vivid, the voice itself in fine fettle and her feeling for words - something we now take for granted in her Lieder performances - quite exemplary. Kurt Rydl's Mephistopheles was well-focused, pitch-black, rounded and sonorous; Christine Brewer's 'Care' was passionately declaimed, and David Maxwell Anderson's Pater Ecstaticus notably impressive.

The score of Faust is a fascinating amalgam of 'middle' and 'late' Schumann, rarely heard in its entirety. Franz Welser-Most's approach is essentially lithe and outgoing, homing in on the more dramatic aspects of Schumann's scoring - its vigorous choral writing (specifically in Part 3), multiple horn passages and darting brass interjections.

Softer moments, too, were nicely delineated, in particular Part 2's opening pages, prior to Ariel's first entry: 'a pleasant landscape', where Faust is trying to sleep and spirits circle round him. 'Very nice,' I thought - until I recalled Britten's great recording, his personal inflections, the expressive quality of the English Chamber Orchestra and the fragile sense of atmosphere he brought to this music.

There was a certain lack of subtlety in Welser-Most's approach, especially with regard to musical punctuation, dynamic shading or overall sensitivity - instances where, under Britten's insightful guidance, a phrase was encouraged to blossom and breathe. Time and again I'd find myself applauding Welser-Most for his rigour and energy, while secretly craving softer contours, more varied perspectives and a more searching turn of phrase. The Overture, too, needs to sound troubled, even a little fey: this is Schumann at his most innovative and cries out for the liberating hand of a genuinely re- creative interpreter. Which is perhaps why the less equivocal Part 3 fared best. Here at last Welser-Most's athleticism really paid off, lending -for me at least - a certain critical resonance to Goethe's closing words, 'It is fulfilled.' RC Despite having all the right Romantic ingredients - a medieval setting, ghosts, even a magic ring - Weber's opera Euryanthe failed to make an immediate impact at its 1823 premiere; even then it was overshadowed by his earlier Der Freischutz. Euryanthe has its weaknesses, yet its influence on Wagner was made startlingly clear in Sunday's vivid Queen Elizabeth Hall concert performance, and the demands made on the soloists tell us something about the reforms Weber achieved as manager of the Dresden Opera.

Here the singers were all stars, but perhaps the most resplendent was Elizabeth Connell: as Euryanthe's false friend Eglantine, she looked as if she were harbouring a veritable nest of vipers in her breast, while vocally she was on superb form. After a ravishing duet in which both women profess their love for one another, Connell gave the smallest but most poisonous of smiles to show where matters really stood. Christine Brewer's Euryanthe - a more elusive role - grew in stature as the evening progressed, with well-focused and expressive singing.

Extremes of emotion are the order of the day in German Romanticism, and Jon Garrison's Adolar was a little stiff, though the quality of his voice suited the proto-Heldentenor role. Nicholas Folwell (replacing Willard White) was impressive as the duplicitous Lysiart, strongly supported by Nathan Berg and Elizabeth Woollett: all younger singers with big careers ahead of them.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was on brilliant form, the period instruments enhancing Weber's imaginative orchestration. Conducting, Mark Elder kept absolute control and yet generated the extremes of passion required. TK

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