Oskar FRIED (1871-1941)
Prelude and Double Fuguefor string orchestra, Op. 10 (c.
1901) [8:59] Die Auswanderer (The Emigrants) melodrama for speaker
and large orchestra (1912) [21:20]
Fantasy on themes from Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel
for orchestra (c. 1892) [20:08] Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for mezzo-soprano,
tenor and orchestra, Op. 9 (1901) [9:54]
Salome Kammer (speaker) (Auswanderer)
Katharina Kammerloher (mezzo) (Verklärte Nacht)
Stephan Rügamer (tenor) (Verklärte Nacht)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Matthias Foremny
rec. 1-2 July 2008 (Auswanderer); 2-6 July 2009 (All other tracks),
Jesus Christ Church, Dahlem, Berlin. DDD
CAPRICCIO CAP 5043 [60:21]
From the Capriccio label we have a welcome release of four
scores from Oskar Fried a man who has been relegated to a mere
footnote in music history. Lewis Foreman summed up the situation,
writing, “virtually everything about Fried is illusive.”
(The Delius Society Journal, April 1985, No. 86, ‘Oskar
Fried Edition’) If the Berlin-born Fried is remembered today
for anything it is for his conducting prowess. In his eminent
podium career Fried made numerous recordings. There are a series
of historical recordings available of him conducting with titles
such as Mahler's
Disciple; ‘Oskar Fried Conducts’ and ‘A Forgotten
Conductor’. As a composer I would guess that Fried, who
only wrote a small number of compositions, is all but forgotten
except to a handful of musicologists. The feature work here
is undoubtedly Die Auswanderer (The Emigrants).
It seems likely that Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured
Night) and the Prelude and Double Fugue for string orchestra
together with the recently unearthed full score of Die Auswanderer
(The Emigrants) are receiving their first recordings.
Little information is available on Fried so I have provided
a short biographical note for background. As a music student
Fried took lessons with Iwan Knorr, Engelbert Humperdinck and
Xaver Scharwenka. An inveterate traveller he journeyed through
many countries of Europe and to Russia. He even visited the
Americas on two occasions. Fried also came to London several
times. I have seen a note from the teenage Benjamin Britten
mentioning Fried conducting an all-Beethoven concert at the
BBC, London in 1931.
After the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Fried a Jew, had to
leave for his own safety. Unlike the vast majority of émigrés
who went West, Fried with his communist views felt compelled
to move east to the Soviet Union a country he knew well. He
settled in the Soviet Union in 1934 later becoming a Soviet
Citizen. It seems that his death in 1941 was viewed as suspicious.
Fried is inextricably linked to Mahler. They first met in 1901
at Vienna and Fried soon became a disciple of the great composer.
The 1904 première in Berlin of Fried’s composition Das trunkene
Lied (The drunken song) for chorus and orchestra
(1903) to a Nietzsche text brought overnight acclaim. A year
later he conducted Mahler’s Second Symphony with the
Berlin Philharmonic in Berlin with the composer in attendance.
Clearly a favoured conductor of Mahler, Fried was entrusted
with making the first recording of a Mahler symphony when in
1924 he recorded
the Symphony No.2 ‘Resurrection’ with the Berlin
State Opera Orchestra.
The première of Fried’s Die Auswanderer (The Emigrants)
a melodrama for speaker and large orchestra was given in January
1913 by the Berlin Philharmonic with the actress Tilla Durieux
as narrator. Also on the programme was Busoni’s Brautwahl
Suite (world première) and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.
1 with soloist Wilhelm Backhaus.
Thought lost for many years Fried’s handwritten score to Auswanderer
was recently unearthed in Moscow where it had been stored
in the KGB archives. The text is from a collection of poetry
Les campagnes hallucinatés by Emile Verhaeren translated
into German by Stefan Zweig. Auswanderer is an unsettling
and powerful musical experience which apart from its orchestral
introduction uses the narrator for a large part of its length.
It is harrowing and expressionistic in its depiction of disrooted
and outcast peasants trudging on foot with stoic resignation,
pulling carts full of their ragged belongings towards a city
of dark foreboding. The city turned out to be a horrendous place
described in the Auswanderer text translation by Michael
Bürgermeister as: “apocalyptic”, “sulphurous sky”,
“red-hot heat” and a “gigantic whore”. The powerfully
affecting score is generally dour, heavily disturbing and frequently
aggressive with several loud and menacing climaxes. The orchestral
introduction lasts until 4:31 when the female speaker Salome
Kammer is heard for the first time and is accompanied by a snare
A couple of months ago at the Konzerthaus,
Berlin I was fortunate to attend a splendid performance
of Auswanderer with the Konzerthausorchester under Maestro
Eliahu Inbal. Jörg Gudzuhn was the narrator. The concert was
part of the 2010/11 season in Berlin marking the centenary of
Mahler’s birth and the half centenary of his death with a cycle
of concerts titled ‘Music with Mahler - Chronicler of his
Time’ focusing on Mahler’s music and the era in which he
Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel
was completed in 1892 and premièred at Weimar by Richard
Strauss a year later. Mahler in 1894 conducted the work in Hamburg.
It was at this time that Fried was studying composition with
Humperdinck and his arrangement the Fantasy on themes from
‘Hansel and Gretel’ for orchestra comes from those years.
There was a great demand for various arrangements of successful
operas and Fried’s attractive ‘Hansel and Gretel’ Fantasy
was extremely well received. Fried conducted a recording
of the Fantasy with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1928 for
Deutsche Grammophon. Pleasingly melodic as one would expect
I enjoyed the contrasting moods of exhilaration and melancholy.
At the close of the score I especially enjoyed the ebullient
climax. I did notice a slight but annoying glitch in the sound
German poet Richard Dehmel wrote Verklärte Nacht (or
Transfigured Night) in 1896 which inspired Arnold Schoenberg’s
Verklärte Nacht for string sextet, Op. 4. A few years
later in 1901 Fried realised his version of Verklärte Nacht
for mezzo-soprano, tenor and orchestra, Op. 9. Its first
performance was given by the composer it seems with the Berlin
Philharmonic in late 1905. It’s a lush, tender and dramatic
score that deserves to be heard more often. The delicious atmosphere
of the duet for mezzo-soprano Katharina Kammerloher and tenor
Stephan Rügamer opens the score with the words, “Two people
are walking through a bare, cold wood.” Initially to a poignant
solo violin melody I enjoyed the passage at 2:22 with Kammerloher
singing the affecting, “I am carrying a child, and not by
you.” Impressive is the soprano’s clear diction and vocal
suppleness in a passage that amply demonstrates her range. At
the end of the second verse Kammerloher gives an impressive
weight to her top notes emphasising the words, “met you.”
At 4:48 Rügamer sings the words, “She walks on, stumbling”
to be rejoined by Kammerloher in a tender duet. At 5:50 the
tenor displays his impressive high register. A climax of drums
and brass dominates the ending before a short quiet close.
From the same period as Verklärte Nacht came Fried’s
Prelude and Double Fugue for string orchestra, Op. 10.
The notes explain that Paul Becker considered the score unsuccessful
for, “stand-alone performances” and felt it would be
better served as incidental music to a play. The powerful score
for strings is dark, grave and of an almost sinister quality
with considerable forward momentum. In the double Fugue
section the work’s dour demeanour intensifies considerably.
On several occasions I was reminded of a choralefrom
a J.S. Bach Cantata.
In addition to the Grove entry one of the most informative articles
that I have seen on Oskar Fried is an online
PDF file from the Delius Society by Lewis Foreman: The Delius
Society Journal, April 1985, Number 86, ‘Oskar Fried Edition’
This Capriccio disc is splendidly played and recorded with an
excellent essay and full texts with English translations. On
the evidence of these four works Oskar Fried is certainly a
composer of worth. For those that enjoy something away from
the mainstream this release demands to be heard.
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