Notes and Editorial Reviews
George Szell was both feared for his relentless, intense rehearsals and celebrated for their artistic results. He turned the Cleveland Orchestra, of which he was Music Director from 1946 to 1970, into one of the world's most technically brilliant orchestras. There are also impressive recordings which document his work with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera (1942 – 1946). His path to becoming one of the world's best conductors was meticulously prepared. Szell studied in Vienna, where he had given his debut concert at the age of 10, and in Leipzig, where his teachers included Max Reger. After conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker playing one of his own compositions aged 16, Richard Strauss hired Szell as piano accompanist at the Hofoper in Berlin, where he remained between 1914 and 1917. He then went on to succeed Otto Klemperer at the Strasbourg Opera House, from where he moved to the New German Theatre in Prague, then to Darmstadt and Düsseldorf, before finally becoming Principal Conductor of the Berlin State Opera (1924 – 1929), Director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and teacher at the Berlin Academy of Music (1927 – 1930). He returned to Prague between 1930 and 1936, this time as General Music Director, during which time he also conducted the Scottish National Orchestra and the Residentie Orkest in The Hague (1937 – 1939). When World War II broke out just after he had finished a tour of Australia, George Szell was able to emigrate to New York, and it was there that Toscanini invited him to conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Szell also conducted premieres of works by Barber, Blacher, von Einem and Walton. He teamed up with the young pianist Leon Fleischer for the big Beethoven and Brahms concertos, and the two produced recordings which still serve as a benchmark today.
Generally good sound graces much of this collection. Chosen selections include recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, most memorably music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with a fabulous Scherzo) and Rosamunde, the LPO and Sir Clifford Curzon in a fine Emperor Concerto, and, inevitably, the Cleveland Orchestra. Interestingly, Profil opts for Szell’s first account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 24 with Robert Casadesus, where the combination of pianistic poise and strongarm conducting makes a big impression. Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony is entrusted to the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Decca, mono); it’s good, but nowhere near as good as the Cleveland Symphony From the New World that follows it, where the Largo is both sculpted and expressive. And those string choirs: utter perfection! Schumann’s First and Second Symphonies are included, the former in stereo, the latter in mono, and there are crisply articulated concerto performances with Leon Fleisher.