Notes and Editorial Reviews
MUSIC TRANSFIGURED: REMEMBERING FERENC FRICSAY
Various interviewees; Ferenc Fricsay, cond;
MEDICI ARTS 3078528 (DVD: 74:00) Live: London 1961
Leonore Overture No. 3.
scala di seta:
After being diagnosed with the cancer that was to cause his death at age 49, the Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914–1963) spent his last five years giving concerts, conducting opera, and making recordings at a frenzied pace. He was based in Berlin, where he led the Berlin Radio Symphony or RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), an orchestra founded in 1946, when the city was in ruins. The DVD booklet compares Fricsay to Bernstein or Karajan in terms of how far his career might have taken him, but a more appropriate musical comparison might be with his compatriots Georg Solti, Antal Dorati, or István Kertész, all of whom studied with some combination of Bartók, Kodály, and Leo Weiner at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and considered them their formative masters.
The best parts of this film, which follows a loosely biographical structure, consist of archival footage of Fricsay rehearsing with the Berlin and Stuttgart Radio Orchestras in the early 1960s. He’s demanding, speaks extremely fast with an urgent, italicized quality, and accomplishes much in a short time. Fricsay was particularly drawn to music that tells a story, and the brilliantly played excerpts that we hear from Smetana’s
, and Kodály’s
Háry János Suite
bear this out.
Not all of Fricsay’s many recordings have the lucidity and energy of his best efforts. “Music Transfigured” contains the bonus of two complete performances by Fricsay and the RIAS of overtures by Rossini (
La scala di seta
) and Beethoven (
Leonore No. 3
). The Rossini doesn’t quite have the infectious sense of fun that is the essence of this music, and the Beethoven, though tightly controlled, is a middle-of-the-road performance surprisingly lacking in drama as the music moves faster.
There’s no doubt that Fricsay was a major conductor of the mid 20th century, with many varied musical affinities and interpretive ideas that would have developed in ways that couldn’t be predicted. He didn’t live long enough to conduct the Mahler symphonies and late Verdi operas that he wanted to do, but his DGG recordings of the three Bartók piano concertos with Géza Anda, the Beethoven Ninth, Mozart’s
, and especially
Die Entfürung aus den Serail
are all classics that hold up beautifully approximately 50 years after they were made.
Aside from rehearsal and concert footage, the film presents a distinguished group of interviewees—Antonio Pappano, Támás Vásary, Yehudi Menuhin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Professor Lutz von Pufendorf of the International Fricsay Society, and (briefly) Kurt Masur—who each contributes admiring commentary. “Music Transfigured” was directed by Gérald Caillat. It is strongly recommended, particularly to anyone who isn’t familiar with Fricsay’s work.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: LPCM 2.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 74 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
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