Oskar Fried. Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (1937 Russian recording)

Unlike the majority of artists threatened by the advance of National Socialism in Germany, conductor Oskar Fried chose to escape to the east, eventually settling in Moscow, where he lived for the rest of his life. There is, so far, only one other recording surviving from this chapter in Fried’s career, a Mozart 40th Symphony issued by Arbiter . There’s nothing remotely routine about this performance. At times, I feel his ideas are not quite communicated to the players, particularly in the very odd Marche au supplice, which is full of numerous gear shifts, unlike any other version you are likely to hear. The Scène aux champs is equally idiosyncratic, but is more convincing, particularly near the end of the movement. An odd detail in the Songe d’une nuit de sabbat is the use of both bells AND piano (piano is given as an option in the score if there are no bells available), and some other additional percussion as well! Perhaps the fog of the recording contributes, but it’s a memorably eerie effect. Overall, it’s definitely a reading that fascinates by consistently sounding like no other version, at just about any moment you choose. The recorded sound is fairly dismal, and the orchestral execution a bit fallible, but it’s still a major performance. I should mention that Fried did record the work acoustically for Polydor as well.

Dante/Lys once issued this recording, but as I recall, it was rather muffled compared to the Eurodisc lp issue, which is what I’ve used. Also, I’ve expended some effort to correct the pitch problems in three of the movments, which drifts over the course of those movements!

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
Oskar Fried, Conductor
USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 1937
Eurodisc LP 88 329 XAK


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