George Szell / Cleveland Orchestra

Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35, 39 & 40

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The music on this release comes from a pair of LPs recorded in 1960 and 1967 by conductor George Szell and the ensemble he honed to magnificence, the Cleveland Orchestra. Undemonstrative on-stage, especially when compared with leaping competitors like Leonard Bernstein, Szell was often stereotyped as dry and precise, an impression he furthered with a wisecrack to the effect that too much sentiment in performing Mozart was undesirable because "you don't pour chocolate sauce on asparagus." What strikes the listener today, in fact, is how rough and vigorous these recordings are. Hear the way the Clevelanders' normally smooth strings are pushed just a bit beyond their comfort zone in the finale of the Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 ("Haffner"), with terrifically high-energy results. Szell is not afraid to vary the tempo in the slow introduction to the first movement of the Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543, and all the sonata-form movements are beautifully shaped. The slow movements are perhaps the crown jewels, with prismatic colors emerging as the daring harmonies are illuminated. Even in the LP era these recordings were recognized as classics and were reissued in various forms; today they suggest that Szell was perhaps the preeminent Mozartian among his contemporaries. Strongly recommended except for audiophiles; the 1960s Columbia sound that was so impressively velvety in its time sounds washed out in digital remastering. The U.S. booklet includes, as every historical reissue should but few do, a reproduction of the original liner notes; it is reproduced photographically and also translated into French and German.

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