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Oscar Fried – A Forgotten Conductor
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon – Overture (1826) [8:17] º
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Fantasie on Themes from Hänsel and Gretel (1890-93) arranged Fried [18:11] ¹
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Faust Overture WWV59 (1855) [11:12] ²
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
An Alpine Symphony Op.64 (1915) [40:13] ³
Berlin State Opera Orchestra, rec. c.1924 º
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1928 ¹
Berlin State Opera Orchestra, rec. 1928 ²
Berlin State Opera Orchestra, rec. 1925 ³
Oscar Fried
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1167 [78:03]

This is a very useful reclamation from Music and Arts, with gaps usefully filled. It’s also attractively presented with a Fried discography and biographical essay – though it’s a measure of where the bulk of enthusiasm is felt to lie with this release that the text is in German. There’s a brief synopsis in English.

In terms of Fried’s discography his major contribution will remain his mammoth acoustic recording of Mahler’s Second Symphony, though his acoustic Bruckner Seventh is not so far behind. Skimming through the discography I noticed a number of things I’ve never heard – Beethoven’s Eroica and Brahms’s First Symphony (both c.1924), the two Berlin Symphonie fantastique recordings (the later Melodiya 1937 is amazing), and his 1928 Scheherazade. Added to these one must add his 1928 London recording of the Pathetique and you have quite a select list of things I’d rather like to hear. Both the Mahler and the Beethoven Choral Symphony have been out on CD as has the Rimsky – though obviously I’ve not heard it. The Eroica is out on Arbiter. Smaller pieces have also made it to CD.

Music & Arts concentrate astutely on works that even collectors might not have heard. The Oberon overture from c.1924 is heard in a rather gritty and worn copy. The performance however is especially ebullient and colourful and for a late acoustic inherently pretty good sound-wise. Then we move onto the conductor’s own arrangement of themes from Hänsel and Gretel. This was recorded in 1928 and takes numerous themes, all helpfully noted, to last the length of four twelve-inch sides. The recording quality has, naturally enough, incrementally improved and the performance is full of warmth and vitality. The Wagner Faust Overture was recorded in the same year and receives the kind of performance Albert Coates was dishing out to scores at the same time – a magnetic, fast and viscerally accomplished reading.

The Strauss Alpine Symphony is the most intriguing item and another acoustic, which presented the usual problems for the studio engineers. Certain conductors at the time – Fried himself, Coates and Henry Wood, to take just three prominent musicians – all seem to have shared a penchant for fast tempi that cannot alone be put down to recording exigencies. It seems to have been a natural matter with them, though whether things were slightly rushed is a moot point. That’s the context for this astronomically quick performance. Of course dynamics are reduced and the orchestral forces are compromised by virtue of the acoustic set-up. There’s a veil of surface hiss. And you can hear a common enough tactic of the time, the end-of-side ritardandi to prepare for the turnover. Given the foregoing it’s actually remarkable how well this boisterous score comes out. Fried’s intense dynamism and his driving energy carry all before him. The orchestral solos are notably well balanced and instrumental colour does emerge with a degree of fidelity. Certainly this is a galvanising retrieval from the archives.

Fried admirers will naturally gravitate to this, as will those who have a fondness for the grandiose ambitions of German studios in the 1920s. Fried’s discography is actually rather circumscribed and so far as I’m concerned everything in it is valuable.

Jonathan Woolf


 


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