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Dvorak: Symphony 9; Smetana: Moldau / Fricsay [blu-ray Audio]

Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001935246   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Antonín DvorákBedrich SmetanaFranz Liszt
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic OrchestraBerlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
Blu-ray Audio:  $24.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is an audio-only (i.e., with no video content) Blu-ray disc playable only on Blu-ray players.

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 Read more 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

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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 9 in E minor, Op. 95/B 178 "From the New World" by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; USA 
Má vlast: no 2, Moldau, T 111 by Bedrich Smetana
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Czech Republic 
Les préludes, S 97 by Franz Liszt
Conductor:  Ferenc Fricsay
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1848/1854; Weimar, Germany 

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