C0155. GEORGE SZELL Cond. Cleveland Orch.: The Compete Symphonies, plus several Overtures (Beethoven). 5-Sony SB5K 48 396, recorded 1962-67, in Slipcase Set. Final Copy! - 07464483962
"This set of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies performed by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra and recorded between 1962 and 1967 has enjoyed classic status for decades. And well it should! There isn’t a less-than-excellent performance among these five Sony discs, and most are stellar. The symphonies are not presented in order of composition but rather economically so they would fit on the fewest discs. Still, the set is such a bargain that you find it difficult to complain. The sound may not be exemplary but given the age of the recordings, it requires absolutely no statements of caution or apology – and you bass-lovers will never feel short-changed.
As for the music, it is simply sublime. Szell certainly had the pulse of Beethoven, and I found myself so engrossed in the music that I would have to repeat movements so that I could pound out the review. It is difficult to pick out favorites, but I found Szell’s Pastoral to be particularly exquisite. In Szell’s hands, it just flows beautifully, with the sonorities bringing more than the occasional tear to my eyes. Szell allows us to seemingly peer into the heart of Beethoven. The brass of the 3rd Movement were wonderfully raspy. The ensuing storm felt like one! The final movement had no shortage of drama and ended with soft intensity. After over six decades of listening to Beethoven, I am still in awe of the vast range of mood and intensity that he conveyed in his music. And Szell is second to none in his ability to draw that same range from an orchestra. This ability is well-demonstrated in the Eroica. The energy is almost palpable, especially in the fast movements. Symphony 7 is as fine a performance as I have ever heard and, again, the intensity is arresting. Symphony 9 for me was the least successful in the set. The Ode to Joy dragged a bit too much for my tastes.
The playing of the Cleveland Orchestra is perfect. Such precision would be the envy of any orchestra. So, you have the finest symphonies ever composed (and Overtures), intensely interpreted, spectacularly performed, and at a price not to be beaten. Needless to say, Very Highly Recommended!"
- Dr. Joseph Kline