MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor,
K. 550; DEBUSSY: Danses sacree et profane – Nicanor Zabaleta, harp/Vienna Symphony Orchestra/RIAS Symphony Orchestra, Berlin (Debussy)/Ferenc Fricsay
Archipel Records ARPCD 0466, 63:32 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
This Archipel issue of Mozart symphonies (November and December 1959) by the late Hungarian maestro Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) competes with DGG’s release of a series of Mozart inscriptions by the same conductor, noted or his darkly elegant readings by the Salzburg master. Generally, the DGG sound proves brighter and more focused, but that is not to say the performances here sound shallow. The Allegro of the E-flat Symphony enjoys a rich patina, thick, lustrous, driven in its forward motion. The Vienna woodwinds constantly reveal their prominent character, the bassoons and oboes in rich contour against the deep strings and French horn. The Andante carries its full weight of poetry, both for pain and pleasure. The colored lushness of the Menuetto reminds us of Furtwaengler’s equally expansive sway with this potent, often sensuous movement. A sense of portent and mystery infiltrates the final Allegro, again the dark woodwinds resonant in the midst of the flute, bassoon, and strings’ intricate song.
Bruno Walter once admonished that no conductor under fifty years of age should attempt the Mozart G Minor Symphony, but despite his forty-five years, Fricsay’s persistent illness accelerated his sense of the tragic muse in his performances. Taking the repeats broadens both the spectra and the urgency of the music, whose running bass patterns often drive cruel chromatic harmonies into the otherwise resigned mix. Typically for Fricsay, the Andante movement carries great emotional weight, the flute and supporting woodwinds particularly affecting as the strings build cathedrals of sound in rounded periods. The dark Menuetto carries the same plaintive agogically active resonance Fricsay achieves in his famed record of the Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477. A slight marcato approach to the final Allegro assai adds a dramatic surge to the polyphonic intensities of the last movement, a tragic tour de force in burnished yet restrained tones from Fricsay and his Vienna ensemble.
Harp virtuoso Nicanor Zabaleta (1907-1993) appeared in Atlanta in the 1980s, and we spoke specifically about his work with Ferenc Fricsay, with whom he inscribed a Handel Harp Concerto in B-flat Major like none other for plastic fluidity of style – Handel transformed into Mozart. They recorded the Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances (14 January 1957), as well as Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro. Presently, this Archipel disc represents the only incarnation of the Debussy in good sound. The piece (1897), conceived for Pleyel’s chromatic harp, attempts to recreate the aura of the Greco-Roman harp of Arcady, the scales exotic and the seventh degree diminished. The second part in D Major insinuates a waltz in the manner of Satie, whose Gymnopedies Debussy admired. Fricsay’s ability to weave softly diaphanous folds around Zabaleta’s gorgeous harp makes us wonder why DGG itself has not restored their entire output to the CD format.
— Gary Lemco