Music & Arts CD-1185, mono 78:35 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Oskar Fried (1871-1941) remains the most elusive of the great Mahler and Beethoven interpreters to categorize, if only because his recorded legacy is sparse, and many of his musical ideas were captured in the acoustic rather than the electronic medium. Some years ago, Connoisseur Society issued a superb cassette version of Fried items, including the galvanic performance of the Liszt Mazeppa from 1928 restored here on CD. The large work under our immediate scrutiny is Fried’s often ferocious Eroica from around 1924 with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. At several points, such as in the Scherzo and the last movement’s coda, Fried adheres to Beethoven’s punishing metronome marks, yielding up a whirlwind, virtuoso effect. The addition of a kettledrum stroke in the Adagio assai adds force to the low D in the double-bass part.
Despite the unrelenting, tinny sound of acoustic recordings (along with the surface noise) the power and the delicacy of Fried’s conceptions comes forth. Woodwind playing, especially in the flute and oboe, is exemplary. The sheer speed of execution in the final movement testifies to a demonic personality, on a par with Toscanini and Klemperer. The fugal section of the Funeral March is a lesson in articulated polyphony in itself. The limits of the acoustic recording process preclude several repeats in both scores, more unfortunate perhaps in the Allegro marziale in Mazeppa. The acoustic rendition of Mazeppa, c. 1925, no less proffers various moments of stark realism, the cracking of whips, the howling of the wind, the frothing gallop of Mazeppa’s horse. From the opening note of the 1928 inscription, the musical and aural development has progressed geometrically. As I no less admire Karajan’s version of this piece with the same orchestra, I can only speculate that Fried’s towering version may well have influenced the younger master. Fried’s divided strings, the pizzicati and long, lean arcos, followed by the racing 16ths to the nobly assertive horn entry, is one extended bravura arch. The triple-tonguing from the trumpet at the conclusion is possibly more dazzling than that from Karajan’s player. The breathed phrases, rife with pomp and nationalistic fury, simply reverberate with the authentic Liszt style, ironic grandeur.
— Gary Lemco