George Szell: Decca and Philips Recordings, 1951-1969

by | Sep 6, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

George Szell: Decca and Philips Recordings, 1951-1969 =
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor; Egmont Incidental Music;
MENDELSSOHN: Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night‚s Dream;
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor; SCHUBERT: Incidental Music to
Rosamunde; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major; HANDEL: Water Music
Suite; Royal Fireworks Music; Menuet from Il Pastor Fido; Largo from
Xerxes; MOZART: Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338; BRAHMS: Symphony
No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90; DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88 —
Pilar Lorengar, soprano/ Klaus-Jurgern Wussow, narrator/ Concertgebouw
Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Vienna Philharmonic (Egmont}/ London Symphony
(Tchaikovsky; Handel)/

Decca 475 6780 (5 discs) 79:56; 67:41; 74:21; 63:41; 67:12  (Distrib. Universal) ****:

Devoted to the British and European recorded legacy of George Szell
(1897-1970), this Decca contribution to the Original Masters series
repeats all of the Concertgebouw inscriptions 1951-1966 that had been
assembled for George Szell/The Concertgebouw Recordings: The Early
Years (Philips 442 727-2). Noted for his literalist, even austere,
approach to the scores he championed, Szell managed to transform other
conductors’ ensembles into a species of his own Cleveland Orchestra,
with the linear drive and acute attention to interior details. This is
by no means to deny the incandescent intensity Szell can bring to his
November 1966 reading of Beethoven’s Fifth, a score he often treated as
a “merely” martial exercise in thematic transformation. Here, we might
detect vestiges of Erich Kleiber’s persuasive sweep in this music.

On the other hand, the 1964 Sibelius Second has garnered almost as much
abuse as praise, apparently for its victory of discreet effects at the
cost of the big picture. Perhaps the most sonically resplendent
performances–with the London Symphony in the music of Handel from
August 1961– occurred at the time another Hungarian maestro, Istvan
Kertesz, was honing that ensemble into an exemplary British ensemble.
The inclusion of the Handel makes us realize just how little Baroque
music Szell inscribed onto disc, with only the Bach Third Suite and E
Major Violin Concerto (with Francescatti) and Tartini D Minor Concerto
(with Szigeti) to fill out the catalogue.

All of the music from the Romantic period receives Szell’s disciplined
sense of internal structure; even the Tchaikovsky Fourth with the LSO
from September 1962 has a slickly streamlined inner pulsation,
stylistic and smooth manner reminiscent of Karajan but without the
girth of sound. The Dvorak Eighth and Brahms Third (1951) are equally
muscular and sinewy; the Brahms F Major, without repeats in the first
movement, is played for minimal sentiment, the free but lonesome ethos.
Szell had a fine ear for the music of Dvorak, even going back to his
1937 Cello Concerto with Casals and the Czech Philharmonic. The G Major
is bucolic in character, but the elegiac waltz has an eerie, diaphanous
aura only a step away from La Valse. The Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s
Dream music is four-square and conventionally phrased; the Schubert
from the same sessions (2-4 December 1957) is more intriguing, with the
Entr’acte No. 3 and the Overture blending lyric power and a natural
Viennese style. The 1969 inscription of the Egmont Incidental Music of
Goethe with the Vienna Philharmonic, likely wins the berries, with
impassioned participation on all fronts — not the least of which is
narrator Wussow’s near-hysterical call to freedom via the text by Franz
Grillparzer.  Szell performances carry the epithet “contrived,” in
the sense that little is left to chance, little to the spontaneity of
the moment. But Szell would hardly consider such criticism negative;
rather, he would lament the fact that by his standards, orchestral
discipline away from him was too often lax.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01