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The Art of George Szell –Previously Unissued Concerts 1943-1957 Volume 1
see end of review for details
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/George Szell; Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
rec. 1943-57
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6018 [4 CDs: 67:50 + 71:20 + 75:47 +75:33]
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of George Szell –Previously Unissued Concerts 1943-1957 Volume 2
see end of review for details
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/George Szell; Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
rec. 1943-57
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6019 [4 CDs: 71:42 + 71:12 + 78:01 + 77:47]

Experience Classicsonline

West Hill Radio Archives is rapidly becoming a player on the stage of previously unissued broadcast material (see list of reviews). It shows conspicuously good judgement in its releases and fills some important gaps, amplifies known strengths, reinforces the increased vitality to be located in live broadcasts – and gives us considerable excitement and enjoyment into the bargain. Here we have two four CD sets devoted to George Szell. The dating game is self-explanatory – 1943 to 1957 – and there are two orchestras involved, the Cleveland and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony.
 
The first volume includes a number of things familiar from commercial recordings but heard in circumstances of rather greater tensile commitment. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (NYPSO – Szell’s debut concert with them in 1943) might begin rather brusquely but soon settles for a performance of eloquent control, that Szell hallmark ‘meticulous prepared spontaneity’ strongly to the fore; dynamics splendidly terraced, the music’s gruff dynamism truly realised. Surging cantabile floods through Vltava with exceptional plasticity of the moulding of the lyric lines. Not too fast at all, and very well characterised except for the too-militaristic and clipped end. The overture to Tannhäuser is subtly paced and fuses weight with a surprisingly lightness and flexibility. There’s the unusual spectacle of Szell conducting Sousa, the inevitable The Stars and Stripes Forever.
 
The second disc opens with another version of the American anthem and we then encounter a brisk and lighthearted Mendelssohn Italian symphony. The slow movement obeys the con moto instruction and the finale is vivacious. Don Juan receives a finely nuanced, slightly aloof reading. Rhapsody in Blue has a rather hissy surface but has the advantage of Eugene List but the disadvantage of Szell’s rather foursquare conducting.
 
There are more memories of Szell’s halcyon days pre-War in Prague in his fortunately-preserved debut concert with the Cleveland orchestra in 1944. The Bartered Bride gets things off to a snappy start and then we hear his own arrangement of Smetana’s First String Quartet. This is somewhat untidier than the subsequent commercial recording but slightly more exciting. It’s an effective and dramatic transformative experience. Till Eulenspiegel is fine; the Schumann symphony that ends the third disc derives from New York in March 1945 – a driven performance, ardent, occasionally uncomfortable with only a so-so recording. In general I have to say that the sound quality in this set is fluctuates quite a bit but at its best is very fine indeed.
 
The last disc includes a performance of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto from an off-form Szigeti. It gets better as it goes along but there are the usual heavy duty bowing, intonational, tonal and other problems that will have one wincing. The Brahms Second Symphony is warmly moulded and beautifully measured, though as the notes disclose there’s brief horn mishap – this is with the Cleveland from 1957.
 
The second set proves equally valuable – and remember that these two volumes are available separately. The first discs pairs too visiting British soloists. Campoli plays one of his favourites, the Lalo – without the Intermezzo – with sweet tone and a slightly sedate charm, bel canto lyricism to the fore, and proves a characterful storyteller. Curzon is on rather nerve-wracking form in the Brahms B flat major. Rather like Szigeti he improves for a ripely turned finale, which is the best of the four movements. Szell was an underrated Weber conductor as his Euryanthe and Oberon overture performances show. His Parsifal music is fluid and flexible, qualities that apply equally to his Pastoral Symphony. In December 1957 he directed a typically incisive, fluent and imaginative Haydn C major symphony whilst one week later, again in Cleveland, we find a powerful Schubert C major. The final disc conjoins two more major symphonic statements, both from New York. January that year saw a typically tensile and authoritative Sibelius 2 and from the end of the year we have a taut, biting Franck Symphony in D.
 
These brief sketches indicate the all-round excellence of performances that, in comparison with commercial recordings – where such exist – are invariably just that bit more athletic, even in some cases at the expense of the fabled Szell tidiness. Both boxes are available separately so it depends very much on repertoire as to which – if you need to decide – you will buy.
 
Jonathan Woolf  
 
Details
Volume 1

CD 1
The Star Spangled Banner [1:39]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92 (1812) [35:51]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast -Vltava (1879) [12:51]
Richard WAGNER (1813-83)
Tannhäuser (1845) – overture [13:49]
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)
The Stars and Stripes Forever [3:35]
(Szell’s Debut Concert with The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 4 July 1943)
CD 2
The Star Spangled Banner [1:33]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon (1826) – overture [9:10]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 “Italian” (1833) [28:26]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Juan, Op. 20 (1888) [15:59]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue  (1924) [16:11]
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 11 July 1943)
CD 3
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor From My Life (1879) transcribed by Georg Szell [29:15]
The Bartered Bride - overture (1866) [6:33]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1894) [13:48]
(Szell’s Debut Concert with the Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 2 November 1944)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op.120 (1851) [26:16]
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 18 March 1945)
CD 4
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Capriccio Espagnol, Op.34 [15:38]
(Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 7 December 1957)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (1916-1917) [21:09]
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 18 March 1945)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 73 (1877) [37:42]
(Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 28 December 1957)
Eugene List (piano) (Gershwin); Josef Szigeti (violin) (Prokofiev)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/George Szell; Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell

Volume 2
CD 1
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie Espagnole Op. 21 (1874)
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 6 December 1953)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat Op 83 (1878-81)
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, January 1945)
CD 2
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Euryanthe – overture (1823)
(Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 14 December 1957)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal – Prelude and Good Friday Spell music (1865-82)
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F major Pastoral Op.68 (1808)
(Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 21 April 1957)
CD 3
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 97 in C major (1792)
(Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 14 December 1957)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Le nozze di Figaro - opera in four acts – overture (1786)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C major Great D.944 (1828)
(Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall, Cleveland, 21 December 1957)
CD 4
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D minor (1888)
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 6 December 1953)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D major Op. 43 (1902)
(The New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, 18 January 1953)
Alfredo Campoli (violin) (Lalo); Clifford Curzon (piano) (Brahms)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/George Szell
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
 


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