In 1948 the young Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914–1963), who had studied with Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, was invited to Berlin to become chief conductor of the RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) Symphonie Orchester and chief conductor of the Städtische Oper (today, the Deutsche Oper Berlin). The RIAS Symphonie Orchester changed its name to the Radio Symphonie Orchester Berlin in 1956 and then to the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin in 1993.
Fricsay’s conducting style in the early 1950s was distinguished by taut rhythmic control, attention to detail, and a clear sense of dramatic purpose – features that are amply evident in this recording of 1952. Above all, it is Fricsay’s ability to combine orchestra, soloists and chorus in a single piece of gripping story-telling that distinguishes his Holländer from many others.
The distinguished soloists include Josef Metternich as an impressive Dutchman, Josef Greindl as a mellifluous Daland, with Annelies Kupper an arduous Senta. Sieglinde Wagner is a fine Mary and Ernst Haefliger a convincingly homesick Steersman.
Fricsay drives the action along at a brisk tempo; alternating between frightening tempest and ethereal consolation until the work ends with redemption and apotheosis. The choruses of Norwegian sailors and their wives and sweethearts, as well as the Dutchman’s ghostly crew add lively and, in the final Act, terrifying colour to this fine recording.
“By a fair margin [this set] remains my favourite, with Fricsay at his most electrifying and the team of men quite unbeatable. It is good to have Metternich as the Dutchman, a singer curiously neglected by the record companies, and the passages given here – including the monologue and the Act 2 duet with Senta – show him at his best.” Gramophone