Having gifted us a bumper Barbirolli box, Warner now releases a slender Szell set (fourteen CDs, another Christmas/New Year present contender). Slender because the bulk of Szell’s indispensable discography is here: https://www.classicalsource.com/article/countdown-to-christmas-boxes-and-into-2019-1-george-szell-complete-columbia-album-collection/
George Szell (1897-1970) remains synonymous with The Cleveland Orchestra, he was music director from 1946 until his death, an ensemble he built into one of the World’s finest.
While not forgetting Szell’s recordings for Decca and Philips, this Warner issue complements Sony’s very nicely, documenting Szell’s studio activities either side of his Columbia jamboree.
The pre-World War Two takes include his work in London, Prague and Vienna – Dvořák’s Cello Concerto (Casals) & ‘New World’ Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic; Brahms (Piano Concerto #1 with Schnabel), Wagner, Weber and Beethoven, the latter’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto with Moiseiwitsch, Szell conducting the London Philharmonic; and in Vienna with the Philharmonic for sessions with Huberman – Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (four of the five movements). Music-making full of character, built to last, although some performances will divide opinion – maybe Huberman the most – but I am not taking sides: I am just so pleased to hear these versions and report how much detail and dynamism was captured way back then by the electrical process.
The stereo stuff – as recorded for HMV/Angel (LP covers reproduced) – is equally star-studded. Schwarzkopf with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the LSO (two LPs) in Richard Strauss and Mozart Lieder (including a cameo appearance from Brendel in K505) and, also LSO, Mahler’s complete Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Schwarzkopf & Fischer-Dieskau).
Cleveland tapings include Beethoven’s Five Piano Concertos with Gilels, Brahms’s Violin and Double Concertos (Oistrakh & Rostropovich) and two Symphonies previously set-down for Columbia/Sony, Dvořák No.8 plus two Slavonic Dances and Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’.
Szell pursued perfection with intellectual rigour, add to which a big heart and soul for the music he conducted – not to satisfy his own ego but rather for musical excellence and, boy, did he score high.
The final disc is entitled “George Szell – a Memoir by Jon Tolansky”, a nice mix of fact and anecdotes (some of the latter are amusing); and, while there were those in the Cleveland Orchestra who admitted to being frightened of him (another found him “very nice”), when Szell’s unexpected death was announced, during the interval of a concert at Blossom, the CO’s summer home, many of the players were in tears… George Szell, passionate on behalf of music and always doing the right thing on its behalf. One of the truly great conductors.