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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Violin Concerto [20:47]
Le Sacre du printemps [32 :57]
Bela BARTOK (1881-1945)
Divertimento for String Orchestra [24:38]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Ferenc Fricsay
rec. Festival of the Ruhr, Recklingshausen, Germany, 8 July 1951
(concerto) Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne: 5 October 1953 (Sacre) Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne: 4 May 1953 (Bartok)
MEDICI MASTERS MM020-2 [78:26]

More treasures from WDR Radio Archives, courtesy of Medici. With the exception of the Stravinsky Concerto this is repertoire Fricsay recorded commercially for DG; the live Bartók Divertimento from 1953 followed his DG studio recording by one month while the live 1953 Stravinsky Sacre du Printemps preceded the studio recording by six months. The Stravinsky Concerto with Grumiaux is an earlier performance. Grumiaux recorded the work for Philips in 1966 (with Ernest Bour).
Although Fricsay was at the time so closely associated with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra in Berlin he did undertake a number of guest engagements with other orchestras. He made several appearances with the Cologne RSO in the early 1950s, conducting the contemporary music with which he was associated alongside the classics. In the 1951 concert, for instance, Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto was flanked by Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 and Schubert’s Great C major; the Bartók Divertimento was performed alongside Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Ravel’s Bolero, and Le Sacre with Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 and Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. In many cases this mirrored repertoire Fricsay had recently performed in Berlin so the music would have been fresh in his mind.
The earliest recording here, that of the Stravinsky Concerto, is rather occluded in terms of sound but is perfectly serviceable given its date. Grumiaux and Fricsay create a balance between the objective and lyrical in this most neo-classical of works. The motor rhythms of the outer movements create a considerable sense of impetus and the final Capriccio is played with just the right degree of controlled exhilaration.
The performance of Aria I brings out the darker aspects of the music more than in some performances, with a weighty, almost doom-laden central section. Aria II on the other hand allows Grumiaux to exploit fully the music’s lyrical potential. A good performance overall but not superior to Grumiaux’s later traversal.
Bartók’s Divertimento benefits from the best sound on the disc – spacious, clear and weighty, with contrasts between solo and tutti well brought out. Overall this is a very similar performance to his DG recording but perhaps the orchestra is not quite as attuned to the idiom as their Berlin counterparts. The sound here however is a big improvement on the last incarnation of the RIAS version, which in any case is currently unavailable. As ever Fricsay is a persuasive advocate of his compatriot’s music. Hungarian rhythms in the opening Allegro non troppo are well observed, and the final Allegro assai is performed with suitably foot-stamping vitality! The central Molto adagio distils a mysterious nocturnal world from the opening pages and the chromatic outbursts later in the movement provide the necessary degree of passion.
In Le Sacre du Printemps sound is again slightly more restricted. Part 1 creates an effective build up to the Dance of the Earth, from the measured woodwind passages of the opening through the weighty rhythms and cross-accents of Spring Rounds. The string passages in this section are played in a legato style, making the contrast with the latter part of the section more marked.
Part 2 opens with a proper sense of stillness and mystery, the “Pagan Night” of Stravinsky’s imagination effectively evoked. The Mystic Circles of the Young Girls move with measured tread indeed, but this makes the outburst at the Glorification of the Chosen One all the more effective. Here, also, speeds are not excessive but the slashing woodwind figures are made to contrast with the pounding bass rhythms. Note the prominent timpani here and in the subsequent Evocation of the Ancestors.
This is broadly similar as a performance to his DG studio version in its emphasis on purely musical values rather than showmanship. In this sense it is not dissimilar to the composer’s own approach by allowing the music to generate its own impetus and tension through scrupulous observation of tempi and dynamics and through clear articulation and rhythm. Not all the orchestral playing is immaculate and sometimes we sense that Fricsay is having to be a bit careful with an orchestra for whom this music still represented a challenge even forty years after the premiere. Speeds will strike some listeners as cautious and the performance does not always generate the cumulative abandon that can be heard in other performances.
Despite these qualifications Fricsay is always interesting to hear. This is a well-planned reissue, containing some memorable performances in generally excellent sound.
Ewan McCormick


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