Classical Reissue Reviews

Oskar Fried = LISZT: Les Preludes; STRAVINSKY: The Firebird Suite; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Oskar Fried – Pristine Audio

Oskar Fried was the Michael Powell of the conducting world, a supreme colorist whose appeal to the ear never ceases to ravish.

Published on August 23, 2013

Oskar Fried = LISZT: Les Preludes; STRAVINSKY: The Firebird Suite; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Oskar Fried – Pristine Audio

Oskar Fried = LISZT: Les Preludes; STRAVINSKY: The Firebird Suite (1919 version); RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade, Op. 35 – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Oskar Fried – Pristine Audio PASC 392, 75:16 [avail. in various formats at www.pristineclassical. com] *****: 

Oskar Fried (1871-1941) remains both the most fascinating and elusive of the great Mahler disciples, having fled to Russian after the advent of Hitler’s fascism in Germany and Fried’s having died in Moscow under mysterious circumstances. “He was a brilliant conductor, an extremely gifted composer, and a most original personality,” wrote Otto Klemperer. The first to record symphonies by Mahler and Bruckner, Fried also had a penchant for colorful scores which he took at breakneck speeds or with refined sensuality that still leave the hairs on our ears and arms upright.

Mark Obert-Thorn, master producer and restoration engineer, revives a triad of Polydor inscriptions Fried made in 1928 Berlin with Furtwaengler’s own orchestra.  The Liszt Les Preludes enjoys wondrous shifts of tempo and inflection, quite in the Willem Mengelberg tradition of huge portamentos and sweeping, arched phrases. The ensemble precision and intricacy of articulation in the splendidly fast string runs and brass triplets prove uncanny, especially as we approach the coda.  The tympani no less provides an elemental drama to the procession.  The sense that Fried can command the Berlin Philharmonic to stop on a dime never leaves us, the musical tension being so taut. For those who already know the Fried performance of Liszt’s Mazeppa, this installment of Liszt becomes a mandatory possession, its cantando e maestoso powerhouses of energy.

For the immortal Rimsky-Korsakov symphonic poem Scheherazade, Fried may have employed the violin talent of Henry Holst (1899-1991) to realize what one commentator has called “the soft-grained delicacy” of the performance. Elegance of line and clean articulation of orchestral detail mark every measure of this eminently erotic realization, the string basses sounding as if they were accompanying the Pasha’s visit to the harem. What a long, sinuous line Fried draws for his The Tale of the Kalendar Prince, almost stretched beyond vocal capacity. Rarely have the martial components of this movement assumed such a fiery, driven character. The strings’ flutter and harp glissandi as we approach the coda instill a diaphanous sweetness that lights “incense-bearing trees.”

The love-song The Young Prince and the Princess depicts their ardor and their shy dalliance at once. Fried’s inner sense of rubato assures us that chastity and celibacy do not intrude upon the scene. An affectionate verse from Omar Khayyam might best accompany this segment of the score. The occasionally jabbed accent, the sudden accelerandi, and molded trills combine to suggest a “consummation devoutly to be wished.” The bristling energy and athletic momentum of the last movement, The Festival of Bagdad the 1928 78s can barely contain. The trumpet tongue work alone deserves our awe, but then along comes the piccolo. Oskar Fried was the Michael Powell of the conducting world, a supreme colorist whose appeal to the ear never ceases to ravish.  The last pages of the score become diaphanous enough to convince us that Fried had recorded the music on water.

The 1928 performance of Stravinsky Firebird Suite constitutes Fried’s remake after the acoustical 1924 inscription. Fried made the string line more lush in the Introduction and added cymbal crashes in the Finale to provide sensational aural clout.  The Infernal Dance indeed convulses its way into our viscera, as jazzy as it is frantic. Exoticism and sensuality reign throughout this suite, as though the entire score were a tribute to Stravinsky‘s later 1920 liaison with Coco Chanel. For flexibility of color as well as rhythm, these inscriptions testify to the power and diversity Fried could bring to the otherwise Teutonic sensibilities of the BPO under its dogmatic visionary Furtwaengler.

—Gary Lemco




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