Oskar Fried: A forgotten conductor (1871-1941):
 Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826): Oberon Overture (1826) Berlin State Opera Orch., 1924.  Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921): Fantasy on themes from Hänsel und Gretel (arr.: Oskar Fried) Berlin PO 1928.  Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Eine Faust-Ouvertüre WWV 59 (1855) Berlin State Opera Orch., 1928.  Richard Strauss (1864-1949): Eine Alpensinfonie Op. 64 (1915) Berlin State Opera Orch., 1925. All from Grammophon 78s. Digital sound restoration: Gert Fischer; notes in English and German by the Fried authority Wolfgang Georgy; includes complete discography of Fried. AAD. Total Time: 78:03. UPC# 0-17685-11672-8.
If today Oskar Fried is the only one of Mahler’s four pupils who is barely remembered, it is not because he lacked talent or failed to work hard. Rather, unlike his colleague Willem Mengelberg, Fried was not granted the lifelong leadership of a single important orchestra and the possibility of spreading his name and fame throughout the world by means of commercial and broadcast recordings.
And unlike Bruno Walter and the younger Otto Klemperer who left behind numerous hi-fi and stereo recordings, Fried did not live long enough after his flight from Nazi Germany to the USSR (where he died in 1941) to be able to adequately convey to posterity most of his repertoire. Yet enough survives from Fried’s recorded legacy, begun in the acoustic era for DGG, to give us an idea of his unique artistry even with the reduction of orchestral forces and occasional re-orchestration necessitated by the primitive recording process available to him. This collection features two acoustic and two electrical recordings. Apart from the Weber overture, three featured works come from composers who in 1871, Fried’s birth year, were still alive and in the cases of Humperdinck and Strauss, actually his contemporaries whom he knew well and whose works he frequently played. Especially Engelbert Humperdinck was very close to Oskar Fried during the conductor’s entire lifespan: Fried became the composition student of Humperdinck in 1890 in Frankfurt and in this capacity prepared the piano reduction as well as the orchestral fantasy heard here of Humperdinck’s opera Hansel und Gretel, premiered not long before by Richard Strauss in Weimar. The acoustical recording of Strauss’ Alpine Symphony represents the first appearance of the work on records, and is a fast yet highly expressive reading.
More often than not, broadcasts and live performances of artists who made many studio recordings represent them as possessing qualities and characteristics distinctly different from those of an editor’s air-brushed and reassembled studio portrait. But in Milstein’s case, the live performances seem equally flattering, if not more so. At the very least, they reveal the injustice of dismissing him as simply a violinist’s violinist. He had in his lyre a string for every occasion, even if he reserved the use of that lyre for music-and occasions- of his choosing. But though he may not have been a man for quite all seasons, all seasons flattered him.
Sound Clips (MP3):