George Szell Conducts – Cleveland Orchestra “Live in Tokyo” = WEBER: “Oberon” Overture / MOZART:, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550 / SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 / BERLIOZ: Rakoczy March from “The Damnation of Faust,” Op. 24 – Sony Japan

by | Dec 3, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

George Szell Conducts – Cleveland Orchestra “Live in Tokyo”  = WEBER: “Oberon” Overture / MOZART:, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550 / SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 / BERLIOZ: Rakoczy March from “The Damnation of Faust,” Op. 24 – Sony Japan Stereo SACD-only SRGR 747, 83:39 – Performance ***** Sound ***1/2:

Recorded live on 22 May 1970 in Tokyo during a tour of the Cleveland Orchestra to Japan, this concert took place a few months before the death of Szell who was already seriously ill with cancer.

This SACD is evidence for the very high quality of playing of the Cleveland and of Szell’s conducting; the reputation Szell had for his orchestra’s tight ensemble sometimes outweighs a deserved reputation for warmth in the results. The recording shows just what he achieved in concert.

The Weber overture opens with breathtaking delicacy, the Mozart Symphony is a tad slower than his studio account but Szell’s lightness of touch ensures the work sparkles where necessary, as well as evincing the drama Mozart’s use of G minor needs.

Szell’s studio recording of the Sibelius Second with the Concertgebouw is rightly admired, and this performance is in many ways similar; yet the live account bristles with energy, and the delicacy of some of the writing is performed well-nigh perfectly. The Berlioz piece was one of Szell’s calling-card encores; again the tight ensemble after an evening’s concert is admirable.

This is a largely unedited recording; there is some tuning between movements, and plenty of applause is included, which will disappoint those listeners who really can’t abide that on recordings. Odd creaks and bangs from the stage and hall are audible, the audience is mainly very quiet, perhaps spellbound by such a special concert, and the mastering leaves in some tape hiss. [Perhaps the SACD clarity makes these noises more noticeable than they would be on a standard CD release?…Ed.]

This SACD has been in the catalogue for some time now, and though it is by far the most expensive recording I have ever purchased – being a Japanese import – I recommend interested listeners to snap it up before it becomes unavailable.

[Another way to get it is as a standard double-CD of the concert which is available directly from the Cleveland Orchestra, https://clevelandorchestra.org/html/store/MerchandiseByID.asp?TypeID=1&ID=2492, at normal prices. It comes with an interview with Pierre Boulez about Szell…(Thanks to reader Aaron Hoag).]

— Peter Joelson

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