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on 27 June 2014
These recordings of Beethoven's and Brahms's complete piano concertos have been in circulation for a long time. They were originally made in mono in 1958-61, and the present 5-CD set is their latest reincarnation. I originally had some of them in separate LPs, and then in CDs.

Fleisher is an incomparable Beethoven and Brahms player, unfailingly illuminating and poetic. Szell gives rhythms an exhilarating life, and has tremendous grip on the performances. The playing of the Cleveland Orchestra - at the peak of their powers - is beyond reproach, and offers excellent support, although they are more like a partner in Brahms. These readings are generally incisive, but slow movements are expressive and lyrical. I particularly like Brahms.

Mozart's Concerto No.25 - as well as a few of Brahms's solo piano works - is thrown in as a bonus. This is another splendid performance.

The digitally-remastered sound is generally clear and natural. All these recordings will be able to compete with any other well-known recordings. The present set is a real bargain at the current low retail price.
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on 18 May 2012
The partnership between pianist Leon Fleisher and George Szell's Cleveland orchestra produced some of the most electrifying and thoroughly satisfying versions of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos from the early years of stereo. Sadly, Fleisher's career was later curtailed by a neurological condition, which for several decades left him with the use of only one hand. Thankfully, he has recovered the use of both hands in recent years through botox injections, and is still playing in his early 80s.

These late 1950s - early 1960s recordings are among his greatest achievements, and have held their own against stiff competition since they were first issued, though they have occasionally been unavailable. Here they are again, fresh as paint in new remasterings, and they confirm the widespread view that - in the Beethoven 4th and Emperor especially - they rank among the half-dozen finest version of these works ever recorded. The Mozart concerto and the Handel variations are also outstanding. Originally under £10 from some sellers, and thus a considerable bargain, the box is now [June 2015] retailing at almost three times as much and currently seems rather overpriced.

The full contents are as follows:
Disc 1
Beethoven 1st concerto, recd. 25 Feb, 1961; 2nd concerto, recd. 16 April 1961
Disc 2
Beethoven 3rd concerto, recd. 14 April 1961; 4th concerto, recd. 10 January 1959
Disc 3
Beethoven 5th concerto, recd. 3 March 1961;
Mozart 25th concerto K503, recd. 9 January 1959
Disc 4
Brahms 1st concerto, recd. 21 February 1958;
Variations & Fugue on a theme of Handel, recd. July/August 1956
Disc 5
Brahms 2nd concerto, recd. 19 October 1962;
Sixteen Waltzes, op 39, recd, 9 August 1956

The concertos were all recorded in Severance Hall, Cleveland. The solo items - among Fleicher's earliest recordings - were made in the Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York. Anyone who has not heard the Brahms/Handel Variations is in for a treat: a wholly absorbing, breathtaking performance, and one of his first recordings.

Postscript, November 2013: Since this review was posted, Sony has issued an 'original jacket' complete set of all the Fleisher recordings they hold the rights to. Potential purchasers may wish to weigh the the relative merits of the two sets before making a decision.
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These discs, remastered wonderfully from masters dating from 1956-61, have been a revelation and bare comparison with the greatest recordings made during the stereo era.

By using the word 'wonderfully' I really mean 'full of wonder' as the word should mean. This goes far beyond the quality of the actual recordings which belie their age to a remarkable degree. What we have here is a combination of fabulous pianism coupled with attentive conducting and orchestral response at the same elevated level.

Fleisher clearly has a technical command which enables him to accomplish anything that he wants. He maintains a strong underlying rhythmical pulse at all speeds so that the music is never distorted out of rhythmical shape. To this he adds, and this is the most remarkable thing, a range of touch that adjusts almost by the moment so that the music making becomes like a living and breathing organism.

In the Beethoven concertos for example, he adjusts his touch to exactly balance the slight fluctuations of the breath control and detailed phrasing fluctuations of the wind soloists to a most unusual degree. The result of this is that we hear the important and constant interactions between the soloist and the orchestral players. This normally only can be heard in good 'period' performances. It is a tribute to Szell that this can all be done without recording engineers making adjustments.

All of these comments can be applied to the Brahms concertos which are matched by the most enjoyable set of Waltzes I have ever heard plus a very fine set of Handel Variations. The Mozart 25th concerto is simply the finest I have ever heard.

To put the above in some sort of context, my immediate references for the Beethoven concertos are complete sets by Kempff, Kovacevich, Bronfmann, Barenboim (Bluray) and Buchbinder (Bluray) plus other notable single performances. The Brahms complete sets are by Gilels, Angerlich plus numerous single discs. Mozart is represented by Perahia, Uchida, Cooper and several others.

Fleisher is able to more than match all of those - some achievement!

I would therefore suggest that this set deserves to be snapped up by all collectors of alternative performances before it ceases to be available. Purchasers looking for an 'only' buy may have problems of couplings but I would suggest that such are the attractions of this set by Fleisher that other comparisons may well fade away. Buy this while you can!
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on 18 March 2014
I have this memory that Thomas Beecham once described George Szell's conducting as "Music as Mechanised Warfare". I may be mistaken, perhaps he was describing something else, but, if I am not, and if these discs are anything to go by, he was right on the money!

If you got the score to any of these marvellous pieces and typed it all into the Sibelius software, then coupled it to the world's best computerised voice bank, the result would sound like these recordings.
It is impressive, efficient, accurate to the nth degree, but sterile and utterly lacking in beauty, imagination, humanity, or anything else that makes music life enhancing. Dismal and depressing. Fleisher doesn't help, brilliant and flash though he is.

I recently also bought the Haitink/Krebbers performance of the Beethoven violin concerto. A side by side comparison is illuminating. From the first bar the Amsterdam recording speaks, phrases are shaped, it is humane, beautiful, MUSICAL.

So, if you think, as I fear some people do, that Beethoven's principal characteristics are darkness, aggression and brutality then this might appeal. If Beethoven is a very great deal more than that; beautiful, lyrical, powerful, poetic, profound, - how long shall I make the list - then you are better off with Kempff, or Uchida, or John Lill, or Murray Perahia, or ... another long list.

This box is inexpensive.

Don't bother.
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on 2 June 2012
If you haven't heard the Fleisher/ Szell recordings of the Beethoven/ Brahms piano concertos, here's your chance at an almost depressingly low price. Its a matter of taste of course, but I haven't heard better. The Brahms, in particular, is quite electrifying when set alongside recent recordings such as Freire/ Chailly (beautifully done but to my ears a lack of excitement and drive where these things count).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 March 2015
A welcome re-issue, these classic performances deserve a place in the library of every serious collector of piano concertos. The remastered sound is full and rich, with the quality of the recordings belying their age.

This modestly-sized box set would be perfect for those wanting to acquire some of the greatest piano works of all time. And the price is even more modest, offering first-rate performances for not much more than a tenner. A fantastic bargain.
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on 19 June 2014
What playing it brought stacks of spine tingles and happiness you can never have enough Brahms interpretations in one lifetime !
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