, April 2001
This is the best Liszt orchestral recital to come along in many a moon, and it’s all the more enjoyable given the involvement of Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, a fine conductor and a real trouper who has not received much attention since he ended his association with EMI several decades ago. Hopefully, this release signals an extensive new partnership with BIS, because Frübeck has the potential to become a major musical voice given half a chance. My, but this man knows his Liszt! Les préludes has grandeur, athletic vigor, and a genuine rush of excitement in the closing pages, with nary a trace of gratuitous bombast. Anyone who knows these works understands just what an achievement this represents.
Take, for example, the concluding phrases for lower strings and trombones at the end of Tasso’s allegro sections: Frübeck conjures an ideally rich, dark sound, perfectly balanced, never crude. Similarly, the much-maligned Festklänge displays nobility without excessive weight or rhythmic ponderousness. Best of all, Orpheus’ sweetness avoids any hint of tackiness, thanks in large part to sensitive phrasing applied to warm, cultivated string sonorities.
Frübeck secures marvelous playing from the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he has been music director since 1994. The solo winds sport fresh timbres and excellent intonation, the brass cut nicely but never overpower, and the strings attack their parts with great confidence and rhythmic security. Add to these qualities first class recorded sound, which gives the percussion excellent impact without undue spotlighting, and if you have ever doubted the quality of this music, here’s a disc that should dispel any qualms. Incidentally, Festklänge sports a tune that sounds remarkably like the Canadian national anthem, which I always thought was stolen from the opening of Act 2 of Mozart’s Magic Flute. Go figure.
Recordings such as this are all too likely to be dismissed because of the repertoire, or lost in a torrent of new releases arriving monthly in the shops, particularly as Frübeck isn’t the “name” he once was. So don’t make the mistake of passing this one by.