enduring partnership of Georg Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra
was one of the most important conductor-orchestra relationships
of the 20th century. Thankfully it was preserved
in many fine recordings, this being one of the best. This
famous recording sounds better than ever in its latest transfer
from Sony Classical.
sensitive response to dynamic shadings was always a hallmark
of a Szell performance, and the opening bars of the symphony
offer an excellent example. The orchestral playing is particularly
tight in terms of ensemble, so that when the emotional voltage
is increased the excitement and intensity are palpable. Only
the sophisticated sense of depth and space of a more modern
recording is lacking, even though the sound quality is by
no means inadequate.
pacing of the slow movement, with its ebb and flow of tension
and relaxation, is handled with consummate skill and artistry.
And the great climaxes can seldom have been performed with
more commanding intensity than Szell conjures here. Although
they do not have the brazen sound of the Leningrad Philharmonic
and Yevgeny Mravinsky (DGG 2564
the Cleveland players’ powerful brass fanfares do leave
the listener feeling exhausted when they have subsided.
result the search for compassion of the closing phase becomes
all the more potent.
third movement waltz provides the perfect foil, its flowing
line beautifully shaped, while the woodwinds play with
great skill and refinement. Then the finale has a commanding
and a compelling symphonic integrity. In lesser hands this
movement can seem to lack direction and cohesiveness, but
not here. It is a surprising feature of this work that
Tchaikovsky uses so ‘standard’ an orchestra, without the indulgence of
percussion. Therefore the blazing peroration which forms
the deliberately forced conclusion must rely mainly on the
musical momentum leading up to it, which is exactly what
Szell achieves. Alongside Mariss Janssons’ excellent Oslo
Philharmonic recording (Chandos CHAN 8351), which has the
benefit of excellent modern sound, this Szell performance
can be a confident recommendation.
Italien is a different matter since it is music that
essentially relies upon its very vulgarity. As such the
traditional ‘all or nothing’ style of Russian brass playing
is probably a bonus, although in one of the best of recent
recordings, Andrew Litton urges the Bournemouth Symphony
brass to heroic enthusiasm in an exciting performance
(Virgin Classics 7243 5 61893 2). This has recently been
in a bargain box containing all the symphonies along
with various orchestral bonuses. It goes without saying
Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra produce all the required
virtuosity, and the fanfares at the beginning are nothing
if not brazen. At a competitive price this Sony issue
makes a welcome return to the catalogue.