Ferenc Fricsay conducts in San Francisco – Schubert, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Smetana – Forgotten Records

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Ferenc Fricsay conducts in San Francisco: Schubert, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Smetana – San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/ Ferenc Fricsay – Forgotten Records FR 2106 (72:05, complete listing below) [www.forgottenrecords.com] *****:

From the recording details on this CD of live concerts, Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1953) spent a good month in the Bay Area, leading the San Francisco Symphony, at the War Memorial Opera House, in performances between 29 November and 20 December 1953. Much of the symphonic fare repeats items Fricsay committed to his commercial legacy, excepting the Schubert and Tchaikovsky pieces, which appear to be new to his discography. Typically, the high energy and ensemble precision that characterizes Fricsay’s work with RIAS and the Berlin Philharmonic manifests themselves here, with an old-world flourish and nuance of phrase added to the American players’ arsenal of orchestral colors.    

Fricsay opens with the final number from Schubert’s 1823 Ballet 2 from Rosamunde (20 December 1953), the martial tune in low strings and pert woodwinds in suave resonance. The Andantino progresses in resolute, clear figures, the changes in dynamics rendered with slick finesse. The lithe music of Rossini, his cleverly wrought 1813 opening to the farce Overture to Il Signor Bruschino (6 December 1953), with its patented col legno effects, an instantly infectious rendition of genial but undeniable bravura. Of course, we all bide our time until “Monsieur Crescendo” displays his graduated gifts More showcase music from the SF from the same December 6 concert woodwinds ensues, the woodwind ablaze in the 1846 Menuet of the Will o’the Wisps from Berlioz, with its slow and courtly tempo’s suddenly bursting forth in glowing flute colors. Berlioz added the flamboyant Hungarian March through no dramatic necessity, but in order to colorize further his sense of a broad travelogue of the spirit. Trumpets, drums, cymbals, and high winds collaborate in a dizzy blend of patriotism and sheer Barnum and Bailey.  

The concert of 20 December continues, here with four familiar excerpts from the seasonal Tchaikovsky Nutcracker ballet, beginning with the Children’s March and its combination of procession and scurrying, string motifs. The Chinese Dance offers bassoon, flute, and strings in synchronized efficiency, moving increasingly in quicker tempos while adding more colors. Again, the flutes reign in the Dance of the Mirlitons, a delicate fabric over pizzicato strings and wind support. A muscular, idiomatic rendition of the Trepak concludes the delightful quartet, marking a natural intermission in this record document.

The music of the Strauss family, especially Johann Strauss II, held Fricsay’s interest through his career, an opportunity to balance the dance elements with lulling orchestral nuances that rival the equally classic performances by masters Kleiber, Walter, Knappertsbusch and Krauss. From 20 December, the first of the Strauss items, the Kaiser-Walzer, in broad strokes, literally basks in stretches of the melodic line, invoking the glory days of Hapsburg royalty long past. Similar to Toscanini’s discipline learned by military-band association, Fricsay’s equivalent training grants him control of the swaying tempos and various orchestral choirs, which proves immaculately clear, the sense of dramatic closure aesthetically perfect. You can cut the last-pages nostalgia with a thick carving knife. A quick trip amongst the plebians, the Chit-Chat Polka bubbles with breathless momentum, the crashes of the battery as potent as the string, winds, and brass playing is virtuosic. 

The ensuing 1873 Wiener Blut for Emperor Franz Joseph I’s daughter is taken from the December 6 concert, and it virtually sloshes through portamentos and slides in old-world style. Rarely has the Sf Symphony sounded so thoroughly Austro-Hungarian in music of such blatant, antiquated charm. The last of the Strauss items actually derives from the earliest of the recorded concerts, that of November 29, the ubiquitous 1874 Overture to Die Fledermaus. The Viennese atmosphere infiltrates every aspect of the orchestral coloring, even to the fluttering in the brass, the etched intonation of the wind parts. The string work, especially in graduated crescendo, shed any heaviness for the light, irreverent mood of high farce.    

The mood of frothy entertainment comes to an end via the powerful, infinitely patriotic work of Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau (6 December), a Fricsay staple. A pity Fricsay recorded this and only one other part of Ma Vlast, From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests. In one of the more brisk realizations of this popular masterpiece, Fricsay urges the river to evolve from rivulets into a mighty voice of Czech nationalism, tracing the respective environments through a fox hunt, a wedding dance, a nocturnal meditation, and an apotheosis when the river meets the headwaters where the colossal castle,  Vyšehrad, stands as a monument to mythical, Czech pride. The SF strings, winds, timpani, and brass acquit themselves in seamless, articulate declamations, and a grateful Bay Area audience acknowledges the rarity of the occasion, for which we, too, feel gratitude. 

An absolute must for devotees of the brilliant Hungarian conductor, Ferenc Fricsay.

—Gary Lemco

Ferenc Fricsay conducts in San Francisco =

SCHUBERT: Rosamunde, D. 797: Ballet No. 2;
ROSSINI: Overture to Il signor Bruschino;
BERLIOZ: La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24: Menuet des Follets; Mache hongroise;
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker Suite No. 1, Op. 71a: 4 Excerpts;
J. STRAUSS II: Kaiser-Walzer, Op. 437; Tristsch-Trasch-Polka, Op. 214; Wiener Blut, Op. 254; Overture to Die Fledermaus;
SMETANA: Ma Vlast: Vltava (The Moldau)

More Information Available At Forgotten Records:

  Album Cover for Ferenc Fricsay in San Francisco 1953

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