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George Szell Conducts Beethoven Symphonies & Overtures

11 Oct 2013
4.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Disc 2
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Disc 3
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Disc 4
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Disc 5
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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 11 Oct. 2013
  • Release Date: 14 Oct. 2013
  • Number of Discs: 5
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Copyright: (P) 1962, 1964, 1967 Sony Music Entertainment/(P) 2004 Sony Music Entertainment
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 6:00:17
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B00FG1MPBU
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 84,619 in Albums (See Top 100 in Albums)

Customer Reviews

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These recordings have a great reputation. When they came out, in the sixties, they established for many folk what Beethoven could sound like played by a first class orchestra properly recorded in stereo. They occupied the middle of the middle of the road. Reviews praised the control of detail and the sheer competence of the playing. And, with the occasional reservation, the recording. Confidence in Szell as a conductor whose performances could deliver unmannered, transparent clarity was very high. For perhaps the most extreme example of this, play the first movement of the Eighth. In a marginally dry acoustic, with only infinitesimal shortening of the note values, you hear things you aren't even supposed to hear, all from a perfectly balanced ensemble. What you got was what you could see in the score.

Not much more, but not to be underestimated. In the Pastoral for example, the clarinet at the end of I actually manages to suggest the prescribed diminuendo, aided by Szell whose pianissimi elsewhere are beautifully finished. Most recordings of that date and since don't risk it. And the work itself comes to a perfectly judged and meticulously prepared climax and close. The artistry in this is consummate. On the same disc, the First Symphony, sharing the same virtues, seems a very careful run-through only - then, as now, it was usually only brought out of the attic for complete cycles, and usually pigeonholed with someone's killer tag 'A fitting farewell to the Eighteenth Century' because it had the misfortune to have been composed in 1800 and the Michael Goves of this world like nice even dates. If you had asked Beethoven - or Schiller - each would probably have offered you a closing date of 1776 or 1789. Szell's performance of the First is for the Goves, or the Mellors.
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By JRF TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 31 Jan. 2015
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These legendary performances deserve a place in the library of every serious Beethoven symphony collector. The sound is full and rich, with the quality of the recordings generally belying their age (late Fifties to early Sixties).

Perhaps even more importantly, though, this modestly-sized box set would be perfect for those wanting to acquire their first complete set of arguably the greatest works in all of classical music. Why? Because the price is even more modest, offering first-rate performances for very little money. An unmissable bargain.
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Not being exactly short of complete Beethoven sets (Klemperer, Karajan, Zinman) and various separate recordings by Furtwangler, Bohm, Menuhin, Mravinsky, Mackerras, Maag etc... it seemed a bit of an indulgence to add yet a further set, but the price was a give away and I have long admired the Cleveland/Szell combination in Haydn, Mahler and Dvorak, so what's to lose? Hearing this classic set from the 60's I would warmly recommend it to anyone, whether as a starter set, or as a wonderful reminder of some great music making at the service of the master. Szell's performances are fresh, firm, strong and swift without being overdriven, and superbly played. Indeed it reminded me of the impact these marvellous symphonies. had when I first heard them nearly 60 years ago. Highlights include a virile yet powerful Eroica with a richly phrased funeal march, a great 5th (belying its mid 50s vintage!) and a Pastoral which is both alert and warmly phrased - lovely "terraced" stromg sound here. The 4th is very fine too, though here the wide dynamic range of the piece is more obviously "foreshortened" than elsewhere. The 7th (not my favourite) is obviously close to Szell's heart and has the manner of a great occasion. The 8th combines weight and wit in ideal balance. But what about the 9th? The first movement is on the fast side, but has a bracing truculence about it. The scherzo is, as expected by now, brilliantly played and phrased. Superficially the slow movement sounds a little fast (certainly compared to the devout funeral rites of Furtwangler, for instance) but if you listen you know that nothing is missed, and it's all beautifully phrased and understood.Read more ›
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I gave only 4 stars as while there are no definitive weak links, I have grown to believe that no ideal cycle exists. There are hardly ideal Beethoven complete symphony cycles, but this is probably as ideal as one is likely to get. Recording is lively in the Cleveland tradition but luckily in quite a fullbodied sound as well. This applies also to the fifth even if is a decade older than the others.

Clear high point of the cycle is the disc containing symphonies 4 and 7, already a classic pairing. Fourth is probably the best of all - including Walter, Klemperer and Ansermet - and seventh is nearly ideal. This very disc demonstrates all the best Szell virtues - dramatic forward drive with an unmatched sense for balance and details yet a fine sense of classicism. Fifth is no match for the Concertgebouw version and a surprisingly low-key Andante but still it is a compelling and powerful performance. The first two symphonies also are not only lightweightish but also quite off charge and leisurely, yet one senses that George knew what he was doing.

Considering the price, this is definitely a steal and now my first recommendation for a full-bodied complete version with a full orchestra. Szell manages to provide a synthesis between Toscanini, Norrington and Karajan: Toscanini with far better sound, Norrington with "proper" sounding instruments and orchestra with full body and Karajan with purposeful forward drive.
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