Oskar Fried, Vol. IV = BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7; WAGNER: Selections from Flying Dutchman; Lohengrin; Tannhauser; WEBER: Der Freischutz aria; MASCAGNI: Cavelleria Rusticana sel. – Berlin St. Opera Orch. & Choir/Oskar Fried – Music & Arts

by | Nov 21, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

 Oskar Fried, Vol. IV = BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in  E Major; WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman: Summ’und brumm; Lohengrin: Treulich gefuehrt; Tannhauser: Freudig begruessen wir die edle Halle; Beglueckt darf nun dich, o Heimat; WEBER: Der Freischuetz: Was gleicht wohl auf Erden dem Jaegervergnuegen; MASCAGNI: Cavelleria Rusticana: Regina coeli – Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Choir/Oskar Fried

Music & Arts CD-1231, 79:07 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Among the rare and under-estimated talents in the conducting pantheon, Oskar Fried (1871-1941) remains unique, a composer of some import and an inveterate iconoclastic experimenter at the podium. Fried bore the aegis of Gustav Mahler and championed his works with particular fervor. In the case of the 1924 Bruckner 7th, we have its first appearance on acoustic disc, a performance of graduated nuance and metric fluctuations that incrementally adjust and maintain the dynamic tension between Bruckner’s expansive periods, the hymns and the militant postures.

Despite the sonic limitations of the acoustic process, Fried manages some distinctly personal moments in the Bruckner score‘s first movement, a true sense of intimacy in the flute and low string counter theme that emerges from its pastoral musings to reassert the march rhythm that becomes quite manic within the parameters allowed Fried’s sonic field. The transition to the coda proves fateful and infinitely mysterious, the stretti and punctuated horns in blazing concert. Appropriately enough, the Adagio carries a Marian gravitas, an exalted spiritual vision that suffers the limits of the recorded medium; else, the implications of the concept would grandly rival any modern interpretation. The fluidity of the melodic design never succumbs to sentimentality, but rather exerts an inner pulsation of power and conviction.

A tumultuous Scherzo ensues, a real ride to the abyss a la Berlioz–in full obedience to Bruckner‘s “sehr schnell” directive–the strings, horn, and tympani in manic transport, offset by the lyrical counter theme that drags the horn motif to a reluctant waltz, only to unleash its hectic furies once more.  The Trio exudes several slides and affectations of portamenti indicative of Fried’s 19th Century ethos, but certainly well within the Bruckner tradition. The da capo proves no less inflamed than the opening, the Berlin players at full capacity to meet Fried’s hurtling tempos. No dawdling for the Finale, which elicits that same “pilgrims’ vision” as it proceeds to its own realization of Eternity. Again, the acoustic process does poorly with Fried’s grand horn sound, the hollow reverberation tearing the majesty out of the concept; but we fully sense the magnitude of the panorama. Even the sweet trills in the strings bear the mark of a sensitive passionately dynamic realization, the figures more than once recalling Wagner‘s entrance of the gods into Valhalla.

For the next twenty-two minutes, we can savor Fried‘s 1927 electrical-process renditions of popular opera choruses, his Germanic counterpart to Tullio Serafin!  Recall that Fried had served as conductor at the Stern Choral Society in Berlin. The Spinners’ Chorus from The Flying Dutchman conveys as much tenderness as it does unearthly energy. The Bridal chorus from Lohengrin drips with a sense of ravishment and hallowed aspirations in strings and harp. The Entry of the Guests from Tannhauser conveys the requisite, hasty ceremony of the occasion, the male voices in ardent harmony, unfortunately distorted by some swish in the original shellacs. Happily, the higher range of the tenors and sopranos and horn parts remains intact, a spaciousness denied us in the acoustic Bruckner. The Pilgrims’ Chorus provided the “B” side to the original Grammophon disc, a virile, articulate account even Stokowski would have to admire for its focused colors. The very envy of Richard Wagner’s desire for popular success, the Hunting Choir from Weber’s Der Freischutz sparkles with lusty joy, a suave kameradschaft. Finally, the Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s Rustic Chivalry, opening with a might organ solo and proceeding with solemn intonations that indicate what Fried might have made of Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces. A fine addition, this disc, to a musical iconoclast of titanic gifts.

–Gary Lemco

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