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CD and Download: Classicsonline

Oskar Fried – Volume 4
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E (1881-83) [56:41]
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Der fliegende HolländerSumm ‘und brumm’. Du gutes Rädchen (1843) [3:46]
Lohengrin – Treulich gefürt (1850) [3:30]
Tannhäuser- Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle (1845)
Tannhäuser- Beglückt darf nun dich (1845) [3:22]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz – Was gleicht wohl (1817) [2:51]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863–1945)
Cavalleria rusticana – Regina coeli (1890) [4:25]
Choir and Orchestra of the Staatsoper Berlin/Oskar Fried
rec. c.1924 (Bruckner) and 1927, Berlin
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1231 (1) [79:07]


Experience Classicsonline

The last time I reviewed an Oskar Fried disc on this site it was of Arbiter’s rather fascinating trawl through some rare material. Some of this was recorded on film and off-air acetates, which made its appearance that much more welcome for the avid collector of Fried recordings. But Arbiter has hardly been flying solo kites for the conductor. Music & Arts has been slowly but surely, and securely, establishing a strong catalogue of such things; it may surprise some to know that this latest instalment is volume four.
Its appearance is somewhat lopsided – but that’s very much a function of the remaining items in the Fried discographic locker, not any inherent programmatic eccentricity on Music & Arts’s part. Because what we have here is an inscription of a towering piece recorded in late acoustic days – Bruckner’s mighty Seventh Symphony – and a collection of operatic choruses in which Fried directed the Choir and Orchestra of the Staatsoper Berlin.
The fine discography presented in the extensive booklet irons out any question marks as to provenance and previous LP and CD incarnations. I should note that the perceived market for the disc, in terms of booklet layout and typography, is German-speaking. The German text comes first, the English language translation second. I only mention this because in my experience it’s unusual for an English-speaking company – though they do hedge their bets by having the booklet cover in English only.
Those who collect Fried’s recordings are, in any case, an international bunch. In fact there have been at least two previous transfers of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and one was Tokyo’s Wing label [WCD 61]. The other was BSVD-105. I’ve heard neither transfer.
This was the first recording of the symphony to have been made, in Berlin in c.1924. Clearly the usual limitations and compromises in acoustic recordings of the symphonic repertoire are present here in a most dramatic way. Such a powerful and vast symphony is hardly going to sit comfortably in the acoustic funnel and the orchestral shrinkages and bass boosting offer a necessarily compromised view. Still, Fried was something of a dab hand at these undertakings, as his contemporaneous recording of Mahler’s Second Symphony [Pearl CDS 9929: Naxos 8.110152/3; Membran 222145-444] clearly indicates.
The performance preserves a reading of fluidity and relatively speedy intent, one saturated with a degree of metrical coming and going – not least in the Scherzo – which shows how elastic was Fried’s conception. The principal flute comes through unexpectedly well – it would be interesting to know the orchestral seating plan for this recording – though the lower brass tends to congeal in the balance. The violin tone is rather thin – again, one wonders how many firsts and seconds were crammed into the studio. So there is something of a sonic imbalance in the recording, but once one absorbs this, the performance exerts a very particular power of its own. The slow movement is moving, and free of the cymbal crash, whilst the scherzo is a study in contrasts. The finale is direct and avid. One senses throughout a vital and controlling hand at work – unsparing, unsentimental, powerfully symphonic in conception (of course) but unwilling to make one special compromise to the 78 process, which is that I was not aware of any side end rallentandi. In many discs of the period one notices the slowing down for a side change; it’s a feature of the system, though often taken to be executant indulgence or eccentricity. Not here. What I did notice though was the side changes themselves. This must have been a tricky matter to deal with but – for example – it’s obvious that side changes occur at 9:24 and 13:46 in the first movement.
The choruses are something of a mixed bag repertoire-wise. They were recorded in 1927 electrically so things are much better when it comes to the recording frequencies. They show how firmly Fried directed his forces, both choral and orchestral, and how responsive those forces were to him. The Tannhäuser recording quality is a touch torrid to my ears but the Weber is sonorously done. Overall they make, collectively, a big impression.
Fried was a discographic pioneer. His legacy is being well curated by this series of discs. Finally, some rhetorical questions. Will M&A be turning to Mahler 2 or Beethoven’s Ninth next – or do they believe there’s been market saturation for these already? Or perhaps they can turn their attention instead to Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique? Even better, can we hope for a first ever CD appearance for the Symphonie fantastique?
Jonathan Woolf



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