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Beethoven: Concerto No 3, Symphony No 5, Etc / Szell, Et Al


Release Date: 11/01/1998 
Label:  Orfeo D'or Catalog #: 484981   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Emil Gilels
Conductor:  George Szell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

All three works on this disc might serve as reference recordings. Indeed, there is no finer live Beethoven concert in the catalog, certainly no better version of the Third Piano Concerto. Emil Gilels was making his Salzburg Festival debut at this 1969 concert, so he had something to prove, and he did it with the sort of effortless mastery that only happens once in a great while. Sample the opening of the finale, and you will sense immediately how the music seems to play itself, as if being improvised on the spot; and this captivating freedom combined with a sovereign command of the keyboard is typical of the entire performance. Of course, Szell’s accompaniments are as good as it gets: he owned this piece no less than he did the Brahms First Read more Concerto (which it inspired), and he had the Vienna Philharmonic playing with that special combination of passion and discipline that was such a hallmark of their collaborations.

The program opens with the Egmont Overture, another Szell specialty: he recorded it at least two other times, once for Decca in Vienna with the rest of the incidental music to the play, and again in Cleveland. All of the performances are outstanding, and it’s impossible to choose between them. As for the Fifth Symphony, this too is Szell’s third stereo recording of the work, including renditions with the Concertgebouw (Philips) and the Cleveland Orchestra (Sony). A reader also has kindly advised that Szell’s 1955 mono recording has been reissued on CD, at least in the U.K. Again, all three of these later renditions could serve as reference recordings (I haven’t heard the 1955), but this live performance does capture the special sound of this orchestra in a way that no other version quite replicates, not even Kleiber’s celebrated DG recording. I offer a taste from the first-movement development section so that you can experience at first hand Szell’s stunning combination of rhythmic precision, textural clarity, and unbridled emotional intensity.

Happily, the ORF stereo sonics are just wonderful: warm, well-balanced, and amazingly natural given their provenance, while the audience is extremely quiet and unobtrusive. Make no mistake, this is a very special disc that every serious Beethoven collection needs to include. I say this as one who does not normally subscribe to the theory that live recordings inevitably surpass studio efforts. In particular, when we’re dealing with a conductor as consistent as Szell, this really does mean something.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Emil Gilels (Piano)
Conductor:  George Szell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/24/1969 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 
2. Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  George Szell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/24/1969 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 
3. Egmont, Op. 84: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  George Szell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1810; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/24/1969 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 

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