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L’art de Ferenc Fricsay
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for flute, harp and orchestra in C, K299 (1778) [29:50]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35 (1878) [35:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68 (1876) [46:58]
Variations on a theme by Haydn ‘St Antoni Chorale’, Op.56a (1873) [16:44]
Hans Schmitz (flute); Irmgard Helmis (harp) Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
RIAS Symphony Orchestra (Mozart, Variations)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra (Tchaikovsky)
NDR Symphony Orchestre (Symphony) / Ferenc Fricsay
rec. 17 September 1952 (Mozart); 16 August 1961, Lucerne Kunsthaus (Tchaikovsky) ; 2-3 February 1958, Musikhalle, Hamburg (Symphony); 7 April 1953 (Variations)
TAHRA TAH 732-733 [65:28 + 64:28]

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: direct, straightforward.
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.
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Brahms symphony 1 ~~ Tchaikovsky violin concerto