Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43
Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Georg Szell
recorded 11 / 1964 (Sibelius) and 11 / 1966 (Beethoven) in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.
PHILIPS 464 682-2 [73.53]
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Here is a classic coupling returned to the catalogue in a stunning new transfer, which should bring it many more fans. Some of the 50 year celebration recordings from Philips have been questioned by others for their inclusion in this series, but make no mistake, this is fully capable of holding its own with any other performance in the catalogue of either work, and fully deserves its place in this series.

Apparently Georg Szell had a somewhat rocky time with the Dutch players on most occasions when he guest conducted in Holland. This issue however proves that you don't need to be loved by an ensemble to obtain thrilling results. Over the years, this issue has had an uneven history as its first appearance on CD was in a No-Noise transfer. This was advertised as the way to go for elderly recordings, but it was generally held to be a failure with clouded and dull sound quality due to the technology interfering with the recording rather than enhancing it.

It was then released as part of a Georg Szell compendium by Philips, but this, as many other releases these days, did not stay in the catalogue for long, and was hampered by inappropriate couplings. Now we have it back as a single disc re-issue with the recordings restored to their original glory with performances that have not been bettered over the years since their first release on two separate LPs.

You might have your own personal favourites of both, for me these are the Kleiber V.P.O. Beethoven 5th, and the Monteux L.S.O Sibelius 2nd, recently available at long last from Australia. The current performances can hold their own with both of these, and if you love either of both these works, I do urge you to buy this issue of the two symphonies, especially if you are unaware of their glories.

As you may imagine, the Beethoven has enormous drive and fire, but this is tempered by the tone colour of the Amsterdam orchestra which enhances the performance, and now can be fully appreciated through the improvements in the recording quality. The first movement is almost as fast as Kleiber's, so if you know this later performance you will know what you are in for. Indeed, throughout, speeds are very similar, and the tragedy of record collecting is that blinded by the latest, greatest performance, the impact of earlier work is often forgotten. This is where we can be extremely grateful for issues of this kind, where we have the opportunity to relive the experience of the classic recordings, and re-assess the performances against current issues.

The Sibelius 2nd is another classic recording with Szell taking the symphony for what it is - a relatively early work from a young composer, starting out on his symphonic journey. Too often, this symphony is interpreted as a great romantic work and is drawn out with the conductor making us aware of the romantic elements to the fore with a great wallow in string tone and the like. Here we have a lithe and highly exciting performance with the orchestra on the edge of their seats throughout with the acoustic of the Concertgebouw adding to the impact of the performance. One interesting fact is that the orchestra is referred to as the Concertgebouw, this time the "Royal" is dropped - quite correctly, in my opinion, as at the time of recording, this is what it was.

Whatever you do, don't miss this issue - you will be repaid a hundred times over in pure pleasure as a result of buying it. Congratulations Universal, why not issue more of these classic recordings which you still hold, languishing in your vaults.

John Phillips

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