If you saved your pennies on the Mahler/Ozawa box, I’ve found an intriguing way to spend them. Deutsche Grammophon is releasing the first of two boxes collecting the recordings the great conductor Ferenc Fricsay made for the label. A musician’s musician, a great musical artist from the era before conductors were international stars, his personal imprint is an ideal blend of searching intellect and judiciously stoked fire.
This first box, forty-five CDs, is just orchestral recordings (his opera recordings are consistently excellent). Fricsay’s way with the classics is refreshing and he was superior with modern music, which to him was the music of his time. His Bartók, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Debussy are as good as it gets, and he was an advocate for now lesser-known, but eminently worthwhile, composers like Boris Blacher and Werner Egk. Looking though the track list, I discovered that he also recorded Henze’s Ballet Variations from 1949—another bit of anecdotal evidence about the current ahistorical fear of contemporary music in the classical music business.
You can sample every track at the DG site, and when the release date comes you may be able to buy downloads from there (it’s not clear), but it looks like this will NOT be available for download in the US via iTunes. For the CD box, the best pre-release price is at Presto Classical, about $80 less than the Amazon price and even better than importCDs.
Another box set to consider is Gluck: The Great Operas, from Decca. This has strong recordings of all of Gluck’s important operas, including the Vienna version of Orfeo ed Euridice and individual tracks of historic and rare aria recordings. This is set for domestic release, but is already available at Presto Classical at $59 for fifteen discs. Best current price is the pre-release one at importCDs.
You can also pre-order Ralph van Raat’s upcoming release of music from Fred Rzewski. The lead composition is Four Pieces, a tremendous work that I heard the composer play at Roulette in May and that equals the brilliance of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! If The People United is Rzewski’s Goldbergs, then Four Pieces is his “Hammerklavier.”
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