The largely under-appreciated Ferenc Fricsay was one of Deutsche Grammophon’s leading conductors at the time of this recording (1960). The reason for a reissue now is Blu-ray audio sound, so this might seem like an odd choice for Universal Music’s finally expanding program of releasing famous recordings from its illustrious catalogue in what they describe as High Fidelity Pure Blu-ray Audio (the near legendary Decca Mahler Eighth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti, and Mahler’s Second Symphony with Zubin Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, among others, are due for release in February).
Deutsche Grammophon’s sound at the time of this recording (in the age of Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo) was notorious among audiophiles for its relentless mediocrity. There was a reasonably detailed mid-range with minimal hall sound and virtually no information at the frequency extremes. In short, they sounded dull. That was very frustrating because of the outstanding musical value of their recordings and the quality of their artists. In that context, this Blu-ray audio disc is a minor revelation. Sure, it sounds like a souped-up Deutsche Grammophon recording, but it is far more involving because of the presence of at least some hall sound and more prominent but not particularly harsh highs. Significant bass is still missing in action.
Fricsay’s performances crackle with excitement. His highly subjective approach to a limited extent resembles Leonard Bernstein, but without ever being self-indulgent or overdone. The Moldau moves quickly in comparison to the slower tempos that are common now. Les Préludes is very exciting without being pompous or bombastic. In fact, the soft, pastoral, middle section with its solo harp and woodwinds is the high point of this performance. Fricsay’s “New World” Symphony is special. The second movement is nearly as slow as Leopold Stokowski’s interpretation (but Fricsay doesn’t meddle with the orchestration). The fourth movement is very dynamic despite a well-chosen middle-of-the-road basic tempo. In fact, Fricsay’s tempos are never excessive, but there are enough personal touches to make his ideas sound very individual. My principal problem with all of these works is the blatty, almost tinny brass that is very aggressive and penetrating, but works against the burnished warmth that would benefit Fricsay’s Romantic approach.
This Blu-ray audio disc is easily recommendable as a tribute to a great conductor, heard for the first time with sound that you will not be accustomed to in a vintage 1960 Deutsche Grammophon recording. --FANFARE/ Arthur Lintgen
You don't know what excitement means until you've heard Ferenc Fricsay conduct. Take this disc of Fricsay leading the RIAS Symphony Orchestra in Dvorák's "From the New World" Symphony, Smetana's "Moldau" from Ma Vlast, and Liszt's Les Préludes captured in Deutsches Grammophon's breathtakingly present analogue sound. Every attack is edgy, every rhythm is driven, and every player is sitting on the edge of his/her chair. But above all, everything is alive and new. With subtlety and strength, Fricsay and the RIAS make these familiar pieces, even the all too familiar Les Préludes, sound fresh and even surprising. The rhythmic tattoo in Dvorák's Scherzo is astonishingly relentless and the climax at the end of the "Moldau" is astoundingly martial. Although listeners may already have favored performances of these works -- the Toscanini or the Reiner "New World," the Talich or Kubelík "Moldau," or, for sheer visceral thrills, the Mengelberg Les Préludes -- anyone who loves the music will want to hear this disc. Fricsay was of the same generation of great Hungarian conductors as Reiner, Szell, and Solti, but he's unfortunately less well known because he died tragically young. Anyone who knows the music-making of Reiner, Szell, or Solti will recognize Fricsay's brand of "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" excitement. But even Reiner's most dedicated fans may not be ready for the level of violence in Fricsay's interpretations -- which makes them well worth hearing. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is clear and very vivid with just a little tiny bit of tape hiss. --James Leonard
Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904)
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 "From the New World"
1. Adagio - Allegro molto 10:04
2. Largo 13:59
3. Scherzo (Molto vivace) 8:18
4. Allegro con fuoco 12:06
Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)
5. The Moldau (from Má Vlast) 11:01
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
6. Les Préludes, symphonic poem No.3, S.97 (after Lamartine)* 16:43