Ferenc Fricsay’s post-war Mozart sessions at RIAS return with all their stylistic verve, passion, and immaculate musicianship.
Ferenc Fricsay: The Mozart Radio Broadcasts = MOZART: Symphonies 1; 4-9; Symphony No. 23 in D Major, K. 181; Symphony No. 27 in G Major, K. 199; Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major, K. 191; Serenata notturna in D Major, K. 239; Divertimento in F Major, K. 247; Divertimento in D Major, K. 334; Cassation in G Major, K .63; Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, K. 297b; Serenade in E-flat Major, K. 375; A Musical Joke in F Major, K. 522; “Sull’aria” from Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492; “In quail eccessi, O Numi. . . Mi tradi quell’alma ingrate,” from Don Giovanni, K. 527 – Suzanne Danco and Rita Streich, sopranos; Johannes Zuther, bassoon/ RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/ Ferenc Fricsay – DGG 00289 479 8275 (4 CDs) 72:27; 69:54; 76:49; 82:28 (1/19/18) [Distr. by Universal] *****:
Between 1951 and 1954 Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) occupied the recording studios at RIAS in post-war Berlin with the sole purpose “to lay the foundations for a better understanding of the greatest musical thinker ever to have lived: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” A fervent, romantic interpreter of the Mozart style, Fricsay himself seemed a man possessed: Elsa Schiller, his production assistant, who ran the music department at RIAS, recalled his character as “implacable, reducing all concerned to a state of utter exhaustion while honing passages that did not conform to the ideal sound he could hear in his mind’s ear.”
I opened this impressive set with the March 1954 reading of the 1769 Cassation in G Major, a seven-movement piece for outdoor occasions in Salzburg. Fricsay invests the score with lightness and elan, pomp and dignity, and the Allegro movement struck me with the pungent verve of delivery. The full blooded, richly sonorous string tone alone warrants our repeated auditions. An Andante of subdued refinement leads to a rather expansive Menuet whose string writing reveals a precociously intricate texture. The emotional heart of the work, the plaintive Adagio, features a concertante solo violin, likely realized by Rudolf Schulz. The delicate, lean melody instantiates, for Fricsay, what he calls “a consummate and predetermined language whose principal element is the cantilena.” A second, more fluidly martial Menuet leads to the Finale: Allegro assai, a bucolic dance of suave Viennese character.
From the same 1954 session comes Mozart’s satire on poor Classical musicianship, his Ein musikalischer Spass in F Major (1787), which parodies various redundancies and harmonic solecisms, especially wrong notes, whole tones, and jarring dissonances in askew musical phrases. Along with the recorded performance by Guido Cantelli for EMI, this flavorful rendition provides an eccentric, perverse luster—especially with the polytonal, chaotic character of the last movement fugue—to a piece that “complements” the famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Mozart’s first true masterpiece for wind ensemble fills out this disc, his 1781 Serenade in E-flat Major, K. 375, in a performance from July and September 1952. The sonically generous fanfare in E-flat that opens the work, Allegro maestoso, sets the tone for all that proceeds in terms of sonata-form development. A Menuetto in c minor follows, chromatic and expressive, which rather sets the tone for the eminently vocal character of the Adagio, which gleans much of its cantilena power from moments in Idomeneo. A second Menuetto conveys rustic, folk elements. The last movement Allegro moves with an informed breeziness, fugal but set in aerial figures. Heinrich Geuser’s clarinet has consistently haunted our hearts.
Disc 1 reminds us of Glenn Gould’s quip that it took Mozart twenty-five symphonies before he got one right. Happily, Fricsay does not quite concur for his May and June sessions 1952: The 1864 Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major resonates with onslaughts of lusty Mannheim rockets, emphatic in the manner of C.P.E. Bach and brother Johann Christian. The Andante in c minor employs four notes that adumbrate his later symphonies 33 and 41. The Presto in 3/8 sings with a singular gravitas, especially in sweeping motion, considering its eight-year-old creator. Two plastic oboes mark the opening of the Symphony No. 4 in D, K. 19, written in London when Mozart was nine. The G Major Andante (in 2/4) in canonic figures enjoys a serenity that we might attribute to Gluck. The D Major Presto pulsates with a frenetic energy that keeps the oboes’ sound prominent. Horns dominate the vibrant sonority of the 1764 Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, K. 22, composed at the Hague, where the young composer recovered from an illness. The real curio lies in the Andante, set in g minor. Here Fricsay adds a degree of color that transcends anything naïve in this score. The Molto allegro finale derives from a J.C. Bach keyboard concerto.
The Symphony No. 6 in F Major, K. 43 of 1767 has expanded to four movements. Rocket figures in crescendo, fortified by strong bass pulsations, mark the opening Allegro. The oboes in the first movement yield to flutes in the second movement, which features a lovely duet Natus cadit, atque Deus, from Apollo and Hyacinth. To many, this music will resemble Boccherini. The succeeding Menuet has a Trio for strings alone reminiscent of Haydn, and the Allegro last movement structurally resembles movement one. Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 7 in D Major, K. 45 in Vienna, 1768. The scoring is broad, with strings in four parts and trumpets and drums, music later to grace the overture to La finta semplice. Strings alone provide the Andante in G Major, also the key for the strings’ Trio of the otherwise full-complement Menuet. The Molto allegro finale utilizes one busy theme effectively, the tympani’s providing healthy thumps. In December 1768 Mozart completed his Symphony No. 8 in D Major, K. 48. Trumpets and drums add to the orchestration, supplementing the rocket motifs and long-held notes, a la C.P.E. Bach. Once more, strings alone realize the G Major slow movement. For the C Major Symphony No. 9, K. 73 of 1770, Fricsay has a special sound for the Andante in F Major that features two flutes.
Disc 2 moves (mostly in December 1951) us to a more mature Mozart, opening with his 1773 Symphony No. 23 in D Major, K. 181, conceived as an evolving, single-movement sinfonia or overture. Fricsay elicits a steely drive to the Allegro spiritoso in 4/4, and it shimmers with gracious, vital force. The 3/8 Andante grazioso sways with an elegance colored by the oboe (Hermann Toettcher). Breathless, the Presto assai hurtles its 2/4 dance in virile enthusiasm. The 1773 Symphony No. 27 in G Major, K .199 (from November 1952) found favor with another Mozart advocate, Sir Thomas Beecham. A combination of Haydn’s unbuttoned spirit and Italian form, the music has dash and an infectious lilt. Chromatic and leaping figures define the affecting Andante grazioso, music that looks to Mozart’s mature style. Typically, Fricsay assigns this music a buoyancy all his own. The Presto, at times contrapuntal, breathes a youthful fire. Bassoon solo Johannes Zuther joins Fricsay for the B-flat Major Bassoon Concerto, premiered 4 June 1774. Both lyrical and humorous, the Concerto allows the bassoon its vocal qualities, especially when the melodies assume operatic proportions. The floating arioso capabilities shine in the Andante ma adagio movement, whose resemblance to the aria “Porgi, amor” from Le Nozze di Figaro has been oft noted. The stately dance of the Rondo: Tempo di menuetto repeats the tune within the context of mesmerizing variations.
While scholars argue about the authenticity of the 1778 Sinfonie concertante in E-flat Major, K. 297b—attributing its solo parts to Mozart and the orchestral responses as spurious—Fricsay and his talented quartet—Hermann Troettcher, oboe; Heinrich Geuser, clarinet; Kurt Blank, horn; Johannes Zuther, bassoon—make a luscious feast of their ensemble, while the RIAS Radio-Orchestra, energetically paced throughout, delivers a rousing pair of outer movements. The Adagio realizes Fricsay’s direct vision of the Mozart line, “the expression of a living human voice.”
Disc 4, recorded 1951-52, has Fricsay perform celebrated masterworks, beginning with the 1776 Serenata notturna, K. 239 a “redundancy” of the word for “night music,” scored for strings and tympani. The Marcia comes off a bit stodgy for my taste, much as I never agree with Fricsay’s deliberate tempo for the first movement of Symphony No. 29. Aristocratic but slow, the first two movements serve to highlight the RIAS homogeneity of tone. The Rondeau resembles a concerto grosso in the way Fricsay separates the concertino and the ripieno antiphons. From the same year 1776 Fricsay performs a slightly abridged version—five movements instead of six—of the Divertimento in F Major, K. 247, the result of microphone complications at the studio. The work, meant to celebrate Salzburg patroness Countess Antonia Lodron on her birthday, projects a thoroughly genial, relaxed atmosphere. The truly spacious 1781 Divertimento in D Major, K. 334 receives a firm, warm reading that basks in the sound of the horns—pitched low in D—and the fervent work of the second violin. The melodic line—a rising sequence—of the first movement evolves through foreign keys, moving back to D Major from F Major, a real array of string color. Mozart’s tonal world becomes intricate and intimate in his Tema con variazioni second movement in d minor, syncopated and chromatic, by degrees. The deep horn colors might have inspired Richard Wagner’s sound image. The first Menuetto in D has an aristocratic stateliness that virtually defines the form. The low instruments support a marvelous melodic line in the A Major Adagio, in a style blending declamation and arioso elements. The spirited second Menuet has two trios in the minor mode, the latter in b minor whose soft horn call returns us to D Major. The playful 6/8 Rondo: Allegro sizzles with buoyant elan, often bordering on a festive, open-air country hunt.
Fricsay concludes in the Mozart operatic world so dear to his heart. Soprano Suzanne Danco (1911-2000) joins soprano Rita Streich (1920-1987) in September 1952 for a brief duet from Le nozze di Figaro, the aria that transcends time and space, effectively used in The Shawshank Redemption, in which Morgan Freeman expresses its capacity to sail over prison walls. The luxurious French tradition in Danco’s throaty voice addresses the recitative and aria from Don Giovanni, Act II, in which the distraught Donna Elvira expresses both resentment and pity for her betrayer. Spun silk.