George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

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Lance
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George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by Lance » Mon Nov 16, 2020 11:12 pm

Just arrived, and am, of course, delighted! Warner's new 14-CD set contains all his recordings made between 1934 and 1970. According to the box blurb:

"George Szell's commitment to musical truth made him an intimidating figure - even among the other formidable conductors of the 20th century. His uncompromising quest for perfection drew performances of exalted quality from soloists and orchestras. In particular, his long tenure as the Cleveland Orchestra's music director (1946-1970) established it firmly as ne of the world's great ensembles. This 14-disc set encompasses Szell's entire HMV legacy Besides such iconic recordings as Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder with Schwarzkopf, Brahms concertos with Oistrakh and Rostropovich, and the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Gilels, it includes several items making their first appearance on CD. Among these is an audio documentary which features rehearsals with Gilels and interviews with Szell and other distinguished figures."

Most of us who followed Szell probably have many of the EMI recordings, such as the Beethoven five piano concertos with Gilels, and the Strauss material with Schwarzkopf, in one package well-done package we also have:

1) The Brahms Piano Concerto #1 in D Minor with Artur Schnabel, piano
2) Beethoven Piano Concerto #5 in E-flat with Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano
3) Beethoven Violin Concerto and Lalo's Symphonie espagnole
___with Bronislaw Huberman, violin
and other artists such as Pablo Casals, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

The orchestras include the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Cleveland orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, and the Radio-Symphony Orchestra of Berlin.
Discs 1-4 are mono (78-rpm transfers) and 5-13 are stereo recordings.

Given this Warner set and the big one from Sony Classical along with some live recordings on other labels, one can pretty much traverse the career of this legendary conductor. The bonus disc (14), is a George Szell Memoir by Jon Tolansky. •

Warner: 52671
Lance G. Hill
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barney
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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by barney » Tue Nov 17, 2020 8:28 am

Sounds good, Lance.
How did the Cleveland/Szell come to record for what is now Sony and what is now Warner?

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by maestrob » Tue Nov 17, 2020 10:13 am

barney wrote:
Tue Nov 17, 2020 8:28 am
Sounds good, Lance.
How did the Cleveland/Szell come to record for what is now Sony and what is now Warner?
I remember that there was a relationship between EMI and Columbia (now owned by Sony) where EMI's recordings were issued here on the Columbia label, especially during the 78RPM era, but I'm not sure of the dates and details for Szell, even after reading this fascinating Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Records

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by maestrob » Tue Nov 17, 2020 10:55 am

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The above 2006 box, while out of print now, is still available for streaming on amazon, btw. :D

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by Lance » Tue Nov 17, 2020 6:37 pm

There is a note on each inner wallet that the Cleveland Orchestra "Appears by courtesy of CBS Records." Even at the later time of the original EMI recordings, there must have been some contractual arrangement for that repertoire and orchestra to appear on the EMI product.
barney wrote:
Tue Nov 17, 2020 8:28 am
Sounds good, Lance.
How did the Cleveland/Szell come to record for what is now Sony and what is now Warner?
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by Lance » Mon Nov 23, 2020 12:55 pm

Because I am so enamoured of the pianism of Benno Moiseiwitsch, I listened yesterday to the Szell/Moiseiwitsch recording of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1938. The Warner transfer is quite good, but only in the softest passages sometimes one does not hear the piano's most upper range (Moiseiwitsch had a uniquely light touch where needed, maybe too much for the microphones of those days). In the first movement, however, the Szell "precision" falters in a few places (after all, he was much younger and is, shall we say, "entitled?). And the pianist, too, has a couple of very minor smudges, rare for even him. But in those 78-rpm days recording technology was what it was. Never complaining about any of this. This "Emperor" was previously issued on a Koch-Schwann CD [7035], which, far as I know, was the first CD issue of this performance and by now has long been OOP.
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THEHORN
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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by THEHORN » Tue Nov 24, 2020 5:12 pm

I've always preferred the recordings made by Szell with orchestras other than the Cleveland to the ones he made with that acclaimed orchestra , as blasphemous as this may sound . I also prefer the Cleveland recordings he made with EMI to this eon what is now Sony Classical .
EMI, DG, Decca and Philips have much warmer and colorful sound than the Sony ones , which sound unpleasantly dry, grayish and drab to me despite their undeniable clarity .
It's like the difference between black and white and color . Szell's Cleveland recordings have always seemed much to stiff and rigidly controlled to me with a few exceptions . They see like the work of a control freak . He uses exaggeratedly clipped phrasing , particularly by the brass which makes the music sound much too tightly controlled and lacking in spontaneity . The Cleveland horns and trumpets have an annoying tendency to peck at the notes rather than sustaining them . Too much tongue and not enough tone .
But Szell seems like a totally different conductor on some of his other recordings for other labels , such as his Sibelius 2 with the Concertgebouw . And of course, the spacious and resonant acoustic of the Concertgebouw hall helps prevent the woodenness of his Cleveland recordings . Sell was able to get incredibly precise and clear playing form the Clevelanders, but something has always seemed lacking in his recordings with them .

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by Lance » Tue Nov 24, 2020 5:36 pm

Interesting you say this. There is still a HUGE following for Szell long after his passing. The mega-all-Szell-box set is now going for around $1,500, 65 CDs, which originally sold for around $200. [Sony Classical 85365.] This included all his Epic recordings with Cleveland when it was their "second line" label. If the word "precision" comes to mind, we find that in nearly everything Szell recorded regardless of label. I have that 5-CD Philips box, which is also outstanding. Sony has reissued their big box on at least two occasions but it is, I believe, considered out-of-print.
THEHORN wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 5:12 pm
I've always preferred the recordings made by Szell with orchestras other than the Cleveland to the ones he made with that acclaimed orchestra , as blasphemous as this may sound . I also prefer the Cleveland recordings he made with EMI to this eon what is now Sony Classical .
EMI, DG, Decca and Philips have much warmer and colorful sound than the Sony ones , which sound unpleasantly dry, grayish and drab to me despite their undeniable clarity .
It's like the difference between black and white and color . Szell's Cleveland recordings have always seemed much to stiff and rigidly controlled to me with a few exceptions . They see like the work of a control freak . He uses exaggeratedly clipped phrasing , particularly by the brass which makes the music sound much too tightly controlled and lacking in spontaneity . The Cleveland horns and trumpets have an annoying tendency to peck at the notes rather than sustaining them . Too much tongue and not enough tone .
But Szell seems like a totally different conductor on some of his other recordings for other labels , such as his Sibelius 2 with the Concertgebouw . And of course, the spacious and resonant acoustic of the Concertgebouw hall helps prevent the woodenness of his Cleveland recordings . Sell was able to get incredibly precise and clear playing form the Clevelanders, but something has always seemed lacking in his recordings with them .
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by maestrob » Wed Nov 25, 2020 11:04 am

Szell was indeed a control freak. So was Toscanini. Yet they both IMHO produced some of the most electrifying music-making on records that really set the standard for music-making in their day, along with Bernstein in New York, Reiner in Chicago, and Ormandy in Philadelphia with his XXth Century output. That was just the way things worked then.

I have many fond memories of recordings by Szell, and am a proud owner of the remastered box of his complete recordings now selling for $1500.

Truthfully, Robert, I find your comments about dryness and gray sound quite curious. Certainly, these attributes are not apparent to my ears when I listen to, for example, Szell's great recording of Bruckner VIII as remastered from the original 30ips tapes onto one of the first CD boxes issued by Sony in Japan without any interference from noise reduction of any kind, just played straight through to the master discs. The same wonderful sound can also be heard in Szell's recording of Mahler IV with Judith Raskin which has been in my library since it was first offered on LP. As well, the Sony remastering of Szell's Beethoven cycle offers a much more transparent and crystal-clear sound than Von Karajan's fuller and heavier Berlin Philharmonic set recorded in the same period. Actually, I admire both sets for their very different but equally valid approaches to Beethoven's music.

Another recording by Szell that I imprinted on when I was in my early teens was his Prokofiev Piano Concertos I & III with Gary Graffman, a modal of how to conduct and play those two works. As well, I would recommend the fine sets of Beethoven and Brahms Concertos that Szell recorded with Leon Fleisher as outstanding examples of sound reproduction from the period, along with Szell's take on the three late Dvorak Symphonies. There are others, but these are the first that come to mind at the moment.

Truthfully, I find the admittedly popular criticism of Columbia's so-called "gray" sound to be nothing more than a smart, snarky remark that originated with the color of the label for their classical recordings, and nothing more. Columbia recorded their best records with many orchestras in many locations, and IMHO it's quite offensive to equate all of these vastly different sounds and mash them into one negative class of "grayness," particularly given the excellent restoration work that Sony has managed to do with the original tapes in the decades since they were first recorded.

So there you are! We disagree again!

Certainly, the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, which Szell conducted and recorded with on occasion, as did Solti, were more subtle and refined orchestras than Cleveland. We agree there. Yet at its best, Cleveland could produce some extraordinary beautiful and powerful sounds on records for Szell as well.

That's MHO, and I'm sticking to it! :wink:

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by Heck148 » Wed Nov 25, 2020 4:09 pm

THEHORN wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 5:12 pm
Szell's Cleveland recordings have always seemed much to stiff and rigidly controlled to me with a few exceptions . They see like the work of a control freak
Yes, Szell was a control freak, extremely so, the stories are legend - but, he could let it loose, and when he did the results are quite electrifying...Beethoven - Sym #7, Leonore #3 for instance, or Walton Sym #2...
With Cleveland he had a great ensemble with wonderful players. They played with great precision and virtuosity, and could really produce the sound when given the green light.
von Karajan was a total control freak as well, but imo, he NEVER lets it cut loose....there is always a restraint, a "hand in the face", a refusal to "put the pedal to the metal"....Szell could do it, and he did it fairly often...
my favorite conductors tend to be the "drivers" - the guys who really push the orchestra, let it rip - but under control, tho right "at the edge" -
Reiner, Toscanini, Solti, Mravinsky are prime examples...I generally love Bernstein, he's kind of a mix...Munch and Furtwangler definitely let it rip - but the ensemble falls apart so often, they sacrifice precision and accuracy for enthusiasm...

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by barney » Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:51 pm

My father, a conductor himself, thought Szell the finest conductor he had heard. I remember him pointing out to me a recording of Szell conducting some Gershwin (I got Rhythm?) and getting some tricky timing/phrasing perfect that he said most conductors didn't even attempt.

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by maestrob » Thu Nov 26, 2020 9:11 am

barney wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:51 pm
My father, a conductor himself, thought Szell the finest conductor he had heard. I remember him pointing out to me a recording of Szell conducting some Gershwin (I got Rhythm?) and getting some tricky timing/phrasing perfect that he said most conductors didn't even attempt.
Interesting post, Barney, as usual!

I didn't know that Szell had ever conducted Gershwin, so I checked my box of Szell's complete commercial recordings from Sony and couldn't find anything there. Next I searched amazon, and came up with the 4 CD set below that was issued in 2011 and is still available here. Yes, indeed, Szell did conduct Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the New York Philharmonic during WWII when he first came to this country. Imagine, a Hungarian refugee in 1943, leading Toscanini's and Mahler's orchestra in American music! It must have created a sensation, I'm sure! It was his second concert in Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic, with Eugene List on piano. Szell's first concert just a few days earlier on July 4, opened, of course, with The Star Spangled Banner, and included a march by Sousa, The Stars & Stripes Forever. We can all imagine how Szell felt to be making such music in Carnegie Hall at that time in an America that was truly mobilizing to save the world from Fascism. D-Day would happen less than a year later, in June 1944.

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by barney » Thu Nov 26, 2020 12:19 pm

Excellent research, Brian, thank you - especially given the parlous state of my memory. :D

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Re: George Szell: Complete EMI (Warner) Recordings

Post by Lance » Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:18 pm

Yes, Brian ... for contractual reasons, Music & Arts didn't publish the set you mention, but I believe it was produced in Canada on the West Hills Archive label [6018, 4 CDs also affiliated with Music & Arts], which includes the Gershwin with Eugene List. That edition was called Volume 1. Volume 2 was also issued [6019, 4 CDs] with some very interesting fare and collaborations. I have both of those sets and value them highly.

Speaking of Eugene List, he was here at my home for a radio interview when he performed the Liszt E-flat Concerto and I had the pleasure of preparing his piano. The perfect gentleman, friendly, and most appreciative of work you did for him. I never got to meet his wife, Carroll Glenn, a highly acclaimed violinist. The pair spent a lot of time in Rochester, NY where they both taught. One of List's daughters also married a pianist, who was a pupil of Eugene - name I cannot now recall.

The memories of the power of suggestion — names! •
maestrob wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 9:11 am
barney wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:51 pm
My father, a conductor himself, thought Szell the finest conductor he had heard. I remember him pointing out to me a recording of Szell conducting some Gershwin (I got Rhythm?) and getting some tricky timing/phrasing perfect that he said most conductors didn't even attempt.
Interesting post, Barney, as usual!

I didn't know that Szell had ever conducted Gershwin, so I checked my box of Szell's complete commercial recordings from Sony and couldn't find anything there. Next I searched amazon, and came up with the 4 CD set below that was issued in 2011 and is still available here. Yes, indeed, Szell did conduct Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the New York Philharmonic during WWII when he first came to this country. Imagine, a Hungarian refugee in 1943, leading Toscanini's and Mahler's orchestra in American music! It must have created a sensation, I'm sure! It was his second concert in Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic, with Eugene List on piano. Szell's first concert just a few days earlier on July 4, opened, of course, with The Star Spangled Banner, and included a march by Sousa, The Stars & Stripes Forever. We can all imagine how Szell felt to be making such music in Carnegie Hall at that time in an America that was truly mobilizing to save the world from Fascism. D-Day would happen less than a year later, in June 1944.

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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
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