Ferenc Fricsay

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8; Lenore Overture No. 3

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Ferenc Fricsay and the RIAS Symphonie-Orchester make Beethoven's Seventh and Eighth symphonies and Leonore Overture No. 3 still sound fresh and vital in this group of historical recordings. Fricsay was one of the cohort of high energy conductors to come out of Hungary after the war -- think Reiner, Szell, and Solti -- and he molded the Berlin-based radio orchestra into a formidably accomplished ensemble. Of the three recordings here, the 1953 Seventh and the 1952 Leonore are the best with the Eighth a close third. In every case, Fricsay's textures are clear, his sonorities weighty, his lines unbreakable, his rhythms irresistible, and his tempo propulsive but firmly controlled. But where the Seventh and the Leonore have the kind of linear power that made Toscanini famous and the kind of dramatic poetry that distinguished Furtwängler's performances, the Eighth has merely Toscanini's power. Still, anyone who cherishes great Beethoven and who wonders where the distinctive performances have gone in the age of digital, this disc is the answer. Recorded in studio conditions, the monaural sound here is clean yet atmospheric, if nevertheless more than a bit distant.

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