These non-commercial recordings were made over the period 1952-1961
and document the art of Ferenc Fricsay in central repertoire.
The Mozart Flute and Harp concerto was taped in 1952 and is thus the
earliest inscription. There are no particular concerns here. The sound is
perfect acceptable for the time and both soloists play with polished
thoughtfulness. Balance is good between them and also between the soloists
and the orchestra. The slow movement isn’t especially expressive in
the way that Beecham used to be with rather more celebrated soloists, but
it’s of a piece with Fricsay’s interpretation as a whole:
The other work in this first disc is Tchaikovsky’s Violin
Concerto, not a piece that the soloist Yehudi Menuhin was recorded in very
often, though one of those few times was indeed with Fricsay in 1949, a RIAS
recording. Two years before this 1961 rematch between conductor and soloist,
Menuhin had left behind a commercial recording with the RPO and Boult.
It’s not one of his better performances and, alas, this 1959 Lucerne
Festival performance is a bit of a no-hoper. Menuhin’s bowing was a
constant problem and had been for some years. Here the close-up recording
imparts a scratchy, razory, resinous quality to Menuhin’s tone. Only
the slow movement survives censure for the most part, with some lovely
phrasing. There are also a number of passages where his playing
doesn’t sound under full control. There are some wild moments in the
first movement cadenza, and again in the finale. Fricsay does his emphatic
best to moderate things but I’m afraid it’s not pretty.
Disc two is devoted to Brahms. I don’t especially associate
Fricsay with the composer in terms, at least, of his discography. However,
he did record the Haydn Variations in the studio and his accompaniment for
Géza Anda in the Second Piano Concerto is also well-known. Perhaps
somewhat less so is the Brahms Double with Schneiderhan and Starker. The
Variations with his RIAS Symphony Orchestra is good, and once again well
prepared. I’m somewhat less taken by his Brahms First Symphony which
is rather too emphatic in places and is graced by some strident string tone,
which can all too easily turn glassy. The finale is somewhat better, the
inner two movements are best of all, though I still wouldn’t claim too
much for the performance as a whole.
All that said, this release has been carefully presented and features an
interview in its booklet between conductor and a French interlocutor, as
well as a reminiscence from Fricsay about his childhood.
Masterwork Index: Brahms