BARTOK: Ferenc Fricsay Conducts the Masterpieces of Bartok – Paris, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 25 May, 1952 – Reconstitution of the Concerto – Mono SACD/DSD Praga Digitals PRD/DSD 350-108 [5/13/14] 79:18 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ***:

In this release, we have a variety of Bartok, and the aim here is to ‘reconstitute’ a memorable concert from 1952 in Paris. Mono broadcast recordings were used with the same soloists, conductor, and orchestra. All the recordings are from 1952-1953. What we get is a reasonable facsimile of the actual concert, in rather good sound via this SACD/DSD disc. Legendary conductor Ferenc Fricsay conducts the RIAS Symphony of Berlin with varying performers for each work. We are celebrating Fricsay’s centennial making this disc a fine tribute.

The performances are exemplary. The recording are as good as we can expect from the period. Although my Oppo Disc player identifies the disc as stereo, it’s just counting two tracks that are both mono. The sound is generally detailed, but doesn’t have the extremes of a modern recording. At times, when there is busy and dense orchestration, especially with massed brasses, the sound gets a bit muddy. Still, this disc is quite listenable, and is a great window into these historical tapes that would otherwise be unavailable.

I thought the best recording/performance was of the Divertimento for Strings in this 1952 recording. As old as the recording is, the divertimento comes alive to a degree that the somewhat restricted dynamics aren’t noticed.

Praga Digitals is providing a real service with this series of archival performances of the highest order coupled with re-masterings that serve the artistic intent. Assigning a rating is tough given that comparisons to modern recordings are unfair. I admire the fine performances coupled with the difficult task of taking these old analog tapes as far as modern technology will allow.


Two portraits op.5, Sz 37 BB 48B
Recorded Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, 11 September 1951
Dance Suite Sz.77, BB 86 (1923)
Recorded Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, 10 June 1953
ZONGORAVERSENY (1930-31) / Piano Concerto No.2 Sz 95, BB 101
Recorded Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, 9 September 1953
Divertimento for String Orchestra Sz 113 BB.118 (1939)
Recorded Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, February 10, 1952

—Steven Ritter