Oskar Fried, A Forgotten Conductor = WEBER: Oberon Overture; HUMPERDINCK: Fantasy on Motives from Hansel und Gretel; WAGNER: Eine Faust-Overture; R. STRAUSS: Eine Alpensinfonie – Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Oskar Fried – Music&Arts

by | Aug 11, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Oskar Fried, A Forgotten Conductor =
WEBER: Oberon Overture; HUMPERDINCK: Fantasy on Motives from Hansel und
Gretel; WAGNER: Eine Faust-Overture; R. STRAUSS: Eine Alpensinfonie,
Op. 64 – Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Oskar Fried

Music&Arts CD-1167  78:03 (Distrib. Albany)****:

Record collectors, especially those who enjoyed the Discocorp series of
LPs, recall fondly the vehemence of Mahler acolyte Oskar Fried
(1871-1941) in his rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony from
1929 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. One Melodiya LP had a
wicked Berlioz Symphonie fantastique from 1937, a weirdly compelling
performance. Connoisseur Society likewise issued a spectacular 1928
Liszt Mazeppa on its historic cassette series, along with Saint-Saens’
Danse macabre from the same sessions; and Koch had the Rimsky-Korsakov
Scheherazade on its CD label. Fried’s 1927 Beethoven Ninth has seen CD
form. And Mahler himself had his first recorded performance of the
Resurrection Symphony via 1923 shellacs under Fried. A major
restoration comes from Arbiter, which issued the 1924 Eroica and 1925
King Stephan Overture (Arbiter 140) in more than passable sound. So,
the epithet “forgotten conductor” is a bit of an exaggeration, if not
by much. Fried, who fled East to Russia to escape Nazism, died under
mysterious circumstances, having left a small but highly stylized
series of recordings over a fifteen-year period. Is there a
scriptwriter out there to take on the personal and political
intricacies of this complex and powerful musical personality?

As a member of Mahler’s inner circle of young conductors–with
Mengelberg, Walter, and Klemperer–Oskar Fried enjoyed eminent
credentials, though he failed to secure a permanent post in which to
exploit and to market his huge talents. His were the first inscriptions
of several of the works on this restoration CD; and despite my own
aversion to acoustic recordings, the sheer will of the performances
shines through each of them. The opening Oberon Overture (1924) enjoys
both color and lyrical flexibility of line.  Witness the demonic
1928 Wagner Faust Overture, a realization of hypnotic energy and drive,
all within a severe classical discipline. The sweep alone makes us
wonder what his Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 2 had to say. A personal
friend and composition pupil of Engelbert Humperdinck, Fried could
boast a direct knowledge of the composer’s scores akin to Toscanini’s
way with Verdi’s opera. Fried’s eighteen-minute fantasy maintains the
nobility and sweet naivete of Humperdinck’s transposition of Wagnerian
style into his own deft syntax. The Alpine Symphony receives its
recorded debut here from c. 1925, a performance – though technically
marked by occasional flaws – is still idiomatic and mounted on a broad
scale. Fried’s predilections were for the grand design, the big epic
works, of which he was a past master. As restoration techniques
themselves evolve, perhaps the thirty-five inscriptions that comprise
the Fried legacy will yield their musical and intellectual gifts with
an even greater degree of fidelity to the forceful personality behind

–Gary Lemco

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