Saturday 5 March 2016

American conductor Lance Friedel brings an exceptional performance of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony that surely ranks amongst the finest recorded on a new release from MSR Classics

American conductor Lance Friedel won wide critical acclaim for his recordings of music by Carl Nielsen with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra for MSR Classics (MS1150) and by Josef Bohuslav Foerster with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra for Naxos (8.557776).

He has served as Music Director of the Providence Chamber Orchestra in Rhode Island and Assistant Conductor of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Maryland, and has also directed various ensembles in the New York area.

In 1994 Friedel was the first-prize winner at the Czech Music Workshop in Hradec Králové and was invited to conduct the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra the following season.  In 1995 and again in 1996, Lance Friedel was awarded first prize at the Marienbad Conducting Workshop in Mariánské Lázně, and was invited to conduct concerts with the West Bohemian Symphony Orchestra.

He was awarded first prize at the 2001 Mario Gusella International Conductors Competition in Pescara, Italy resulting in engagements to conduct concerts with orchestras throughout Italy, as well as in Hungary.

Since then Friedel has been invited to conduct orchestras throughout Eastern Europe, including the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra in Poland and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in Kiev.  He has conducted new productions of Aida and Le Nozze di Figaro in Slovakia, as well as premiere performances of several new American symphonic works in Bulgaria. More recently, Friedel conducted the Berlin Sinfonietta and Berliner Symphonie-Chor in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Konzerthaus in Berlin.

Mr. Friedel has attended master classes under such esteemed maestros as Leonard Slatkin, Andre Previn, and Lorin Maazel, and has attended numerous workshops and seminars, including the Mozarteum Summer Academy in Salzburg, the Aspen Music Festival and Tanglewood.  His conducting teachers have included Gustav Meier, Michael Charry, and Georg Tintner. A magna cum laude graduate of Boston University, Mr. Friedel has also studied at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna, and the Mannes College of Music in New York.

Friedel's most recent recording is a new SACD of Bruckner's Fifth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra for MSR Classics

MS 1600

It is interesting that one of Lance Friedel’s conducting teachers should have been the great Bruckner conductor, Georg Tintner, raising expectations as to what ideas might be brought to this music.

The Adagio – Allegro of Anton Bruckner’s (1824-1896) Symphony No. 5 in B flat major rises slowly and quietly out of silence with a fine pizzicato pulse in the basses before rising up in some of Bruckner’s fine chordal harmonies. As the allegro arrives, Friedel soon finds a flow with a pacing and tempi that are impressive. The orchestral detail is laid bare, with a great awareness of the overall structure, never rushed, a natural beautifully drawn flow, laying out this huge canvas most wonderfully. The London Symphony Orchestra’s brass sonorities are impressive. This conductor brings a freshness to this music with flexible tempi and some gorgeous hushed string and woodwind passages. Friedel brings moments of impetuosity unusual in a Bruckner performance, quite spectacular. The quieter intervals allow the build up to climaxes to achieve even more significance and power, especially the fast, forward moving lead up to the coda that has a directness and impact that is very fine.

There is a well-paced pizzicato opening to the Adagio: Sehr langsam that brings a real air of expectancy before the oboe leads ahead, soon joined by the rest of the orchestra. This conductor draws some very fine orchestral textures from the LSO, again beautifully paced.  His subtle little tempi changes add an emotional tug together with a naturalness and sense of spontaneity. He is not afraid to keep the momentum going, allowing the dynamics to rise naturally, fitting beautifully within the overall canvass.  Later there are some wonderfully controlled passages, detailed yet with a fine flow as well as some terrific orchestral surges of great breadth before a fine hushed coda.

The Scherzo: Molto vivace – Trio has a finely conceived opening, well controlled with some terrific outbursts.  Friedel brings such fleet delicacy in the pizzicato passages with a real Austrian flavour to the slower melody. There are finely judged accelerandi with more moments of fine spontaneity. The Trio section keeps a fine pulse with many fine instrumental details. This conductor whips up some terrific climaxes interspersed by some lovely Austrian ländler passages before a fine coda.

Beautifully paced pizzicato basses open the Finale: Adagio – Allegro moderato with the most exquisite clarinet interventions over which the strings of the LSO sweep. There is a beautifully done sequence as the pizzicato and oboe alternate with the little clarinet motif. Soon the strings find an incisive forward drive, developing a fine overlay of textures. This conductor is happy to allow the music to flow quickly forward, apparently unrestrained. When the orchestra bursts out it has a real impact yet all within the natural landscape of this music’s architecture, as is seen when it falls so naturally to a hushed passage.

The very fine brass chorales contrast so well with the quieter intervening passages and some fine sweeps of sound, full of breadth as the music ever develops.  Friedel captures the wayward harmonies and intervals brilliantly, later finding a terrific forward drive, fleet and unforced. When the music picks up great energy and dynamics, with clarinets sounding over the top of the orchestra, it brings a moment of thrilling excitement. Friedel continues to develop the music through subtle passages of restrained power before rising up with impressive strength and force as he and the orchestra find the ultimate climax he has so obviously been working towards from the beginning.

This is an exceptional performance that surely ranks amongst the finest recorded.

Lance Friedel and the London Symphony Orchestra are given an SACD recording of depth, impact and detail that emerges from an inky black silence.  There are informative booklet notes though I must point out that Mahler, though a friend and supporter of Bruckner, was strictly never a pupil of his. 

We need to hear more from this fine conductor. 

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