by | Jun 13, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Ferenc Fricsay conducts = ROSSINI: Overture, The Journey to Rheims; R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D Minor; KODA LY: Dances from Galanta; ZIMMERMANN: Cabocio from Brazilian Portrait; HONEGGER: Concertino; RAVEL : Bolero – Margrit Weber, piano/ Radio-Symphony of the Southwest German Radio/ Ferenc Fricsay – SWR Classic SWR19070CD (2/27/19) 72:55 [Distr. By Naxos] ****:

Occasionally, a “sleeper” disc by a major conductor slips by, but fate may compensate in time. This album, recorded in Stuttgart 10 October 1955, features Hungarian maestro Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) in a program of “light music” that does call for instrumental bravura. 

Fricsay opens with a rarity in his recorded legacy, Rossini’s 1826 overture for his last opera in Italian, Il viaggio a Reims, the music for which Rossini assembled from dances in his Le siège de Corinthe. The alleged overture was published in Milan, 1938, in a revision led at La Scala by Richard Strauss!  Fricsay, with his usual ear for instrumental nuance, coaxes marvelous, playful collaboration from his winds, brass, and strings; and he manages that epithet “senior crescendo” from the Rossini style that virtually defines the power of his musical character. 

The 1885-86 Burleske of Richard Strauss meant to display the composer’s own pianistic gifts to the Viennese public. Strauss originally entitled this energetic, flamboyant piece Scherzo, fashioning it in one movement that betrays some debts to Brahms, especially the second movement of the B-flat Concerto. The melodic contours of the piece already demonstrate the Strauss lyric gift, while the virtuoso interchange with the timpani and strings point to a masterly sense of dramatic effect. Soloist Margrit Weber (1924-2001) was a Swiss pianist with whom Fricsay performed, though not with the same, exalted results he achieved with Clara Haskil, Annie Fischer, and Monique Haas. Still, the performance has sweep and impish vitality, not forgetting the moments of real melody that arise in the midst of brilliant effects.

Fricsay had a particular attachment to the work of Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), with whom he had studied at the Budapest College of Music. The Dances of Galánta (1933) result from a commission from the Budapest Philharmonic Society on the occasion of its 80th anniversary. Located in Southern Slovakia, Galánta meant days of youth and carefree existence to Kodaly, who wished to capture the gypsy spirit of the culture, especially in the form of the verbunkos, courtship or recruiting, music that begins slowly and then accelerates to a powerful climax. The pungent, gypsy harmonies and syncopated metrics could hardly find a more idiomatic realization than Fricsay proffers here. The application of the retardatio just before the misty strings and  winds launch the finale’s paroxysm of sound proves quite effective.

The rarity among these Fricsay selections comes from Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970), whose ballet suite Alagoana (premiere 1953) boasts Latin and jazz rhythms. Zimmermann’s brother had spent time in South America, and the Cabocio depicts an inhabitant of the region the brother described in his letters. Jazz elements provide the interest in Arthur Honegger’s light 1924 Concertino, a work recorded years ago by Oscar Levant with Fritz Reiner conducting. Weber and Fricsay capture the work’s aerial, genial transparencies, even its bluesy waywardness. We hear inklings of the later Ravel G Major Concerto and a touch of Gershwin. 

The tale of Ravel’s 1928 Bolero has been told many times, and we well know its snare drum accompaniment to a piece the composer designated as “orchestral tissue without music.” Once the theme, rather a fandango, establishes itself, it all – “this experiment in a limited direction” – becomes a matter of color instrumentation in increased dynamics. Fricsay, who himself played every orchestral instrument except the harp, well negotiates the marvelous brew that makes only one modulation, from C Major to E Major, basking along its fourteen-minute course in woven eroticism. Finder’s keepers, this album.

—Gary Lemco

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