OP0445. ANTIGONAE, World Premiere Performance, 9 Aug., 1949, w.Fricsay Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Enesmble; Res Fischer, Hermann Uhde, Maria von Ilosvay, Lorenz Fehenberger, Josef Greindl, Ernst Haefliger, Helmut Krebs, Hilde Zadek, Benno Kusche, etc. (Italy) 2-Stradivarius 10060, w.Elaborate 64pp. Libretto-Brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Rare Copy! - 8011570100603
"If ever a composer could be said to have fallen out of favor, it is Carl Orff. Orff, who died in 1982 at the age of 86, has suffered under two stigmas. He came to artistic maturity with CARMINA BURANA in 1937. The work celebrates medieval Germany, and its brashness, athleticism and splashy popular appeal made it a favorite in Nazi Germany, where Orff remained throughout the war. Still, he was hardly a fervent follower of Hitler, and his operas of 1939, DER MOND, and 1943, DIE KLUGE, seem now to be shot through with veiled antifascist allusions. In any case, Orff's experimentalism could not fully express itself until after the war. And here he encountered his second stigma: he did not play by the rules of the aggressively modernist composers who emerged in central Europe after Nazism, eager to make up for lost time.
Orff's preference for simple, blocklike harmonies, driving rhythms and bold orchestral colors had a philosophical basis. He believed in music as an art that could communicate not only to children, who, he thought, had innate musical gifts, but also to adults in a fragmented modern society. His ‘spectacles’ were attempts to rediscover roots, ancient traditions that could have meaning today.
Greek tragedy was central to his search, as it has been to nearly all efforts to revitalize Western music theater over the last 500 years. ANTIGONAE is a literal setting of Friedrich Holderlin's German translation of Sophocles' drama. For Orff, ANTIGONAE needed no modernization, just restoration, to bring back its full, elemental power. Of course, any restoration is an act of modernization, however inadvertent. What Orff did in ANTIGONAE was to set the words as cadenced chanting. The music is scored for opera singers, but they are asked to act, to invest recitativelike declamation with theatrical life. This score is part of a diverse 20th-century effort to rethink the relation of words and music in opera, from Schonberg's speech-song to Richard Strauss' ruminations in CAPRICCIO, from the word-inspired musical phrasing of Janacek and Steve Reich to the musical atmosphere behind Ariane Mnouchkine's staging of the ORESTEIA cycle.
Orff's restorative ideal determined his musical accompaniment: a huge orchestra dominated by percussion but also including pianos, winds and double basses. Mostly, this elephantine ensemble patters along discreetly. But at climactic moments, in the choruses and in Antigonae's great monologue at the end of Act III, ‘O grave, thou bridal bed’, it breaks forth in measured cataclysmic onslaughts.
The Deutsche Grammophon version [is] preferable for the ANTIGONAE neophyte. Recorded in 1961 in Orff's hometown of Munich under his supervision, it offers more placid conducting from Ferdinand Leitner, more operatic singing, and sound quality that socks home the visceral power of the instrumentation. Inge Borkh, a dramatic soprano, is a sovereign, steely Antigonae, and though some other characters (Carlos Alexander's hollow Creon, Gerhard Stolze's whiny Watchman) are inferior to their Salzburg counterparts, the overall impact goes a long way toward restoring Orff's tattered reputation.”
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 June, 1993
“Ferenc Fricsay was a student for six years at the Budapest Academy of Music, where he studied violin and piano with Bartók and composition with Kodály. His first appointment came in 1933 as military bandmaster in the Hungarian town of Szeged, the economic and cultural capital of the south-eastern region of Hungary, adjacent to the Yugoslav and Romanian borders. In 1934 he became chief conductor of the Szeged Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to establish an opera department in the local theatre in 1939, making his debut as a conductor at the Budapest Opera in 1939. Fricsay stayed in Szeged until 1944 when he and his family went into hiding from the occupying German forces in Budapest, but following the defeat of National Socialism he conducted the first symphony concert in liberated Budapest in 1945, and in the same year was appointed chief conductor of the Budapest Opera and conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, of which Otto Klemperer was then a guest conductor. He made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during 1946.
Fricsay’s international breakthrough came in 1947, when he substituted for Klemperer as conductor of the world première of Gottfried von Einem’s opera DANTONS TOD at the Salzburg Festival. He was subsequently engaged as chief conductor of the Berlin RIAS (Radio In American Sector) Symphony Orchestra, the first of the six radio orchestras to be established by the occupying powers in Federal Germany, and held this post from 1949 to 1954 alongside that of chief conductor of the Berlin Stadtische Opera, a position which he retained until 1952. Fricsay made the RIAS Orchestra into one of the finest in West Germany. With the introduction of the long-playing record both he and the orchestra became mainstays of the new catalogue of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.
At the same time he was developing an international career, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in 1948, returning to the Salzburg Festival to conduct Frank Martin’s LE VIN HERBÉ in 1948 and Carl Orff’s ANTIGONE in 1949, and conducting in England, Holland, Israel and South America. In 1950 he conducted the Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s production of Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FIGARO at the Edinburgh Festival. Having appeared for the first time in America in 1953, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1956 he became chief conductor of the Bavarian State Opera, where he remained for two seasons before returning to his old post with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1959; he also acted as a musical adviser to the Deutsche Oper, and inaugurated the company’s new opera house in 1961, leading DON GIOVANNI.
Fricsay was unusual in that he insisted on and obtained great precision in his performances, yet combined this with considerable emotional force. In this respect his performances were quite different from those of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the other great Berlin conductor of the period when Fricsay was establishing his international conducting and recording career. These characteristics made him an ideal recording conductor, giving his recordings a power and freshness denied to many rival versions. He encouraged orchestral musicians to listen to each other, and to play as though in chamber music: consequently his performances possessed excellent internal balance, which also was a great advantage when it came to making records. Fricsay’s repertoire was extremely wide: he was equally at home in the opera house pit as on the concert hall podium. His accounts of operas by Mozart have well stood the test of time with their bustling vivacity, while his recording of Beethoven’s FIDELIO has survived critical disdain to be recognised as a reading of real substance and dramatic power. The few recordings of live operatic performances conducted by him, such as a Rigoletto from Berlin in 1950, demonstrate a strong sense of musical theatre, and his recorded accounts of major choral works, such as Verdi’s REQUIEM, were also highly successful. Fricsay’s musicianship was so keen and wide-ranging that anything to which he turned his hand was delivered with real understanding and style: his accompaniments to concerto recordings by Clara Haskil and Annie Fischer for instance remain models of their kind. To quote another highly distinguished musician, Yehudi Menuhin, ‘Fricsay was one of the world’s greatest conductors, certainly no conductor had greater talent’.”
- David Patmore, Naxos' A–Z of Conductors