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George Szell Conducts Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9, Overtures

George Szell Conducts Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9, Overtures—The Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell; Adele Addison, Jane Hobson, Richard Lewis, Donald Bell; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus (Sony 373715)

David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday.com: “This has always been a reference cycle for the symphonies, and so it remains. I used to think that the Fourth was the weakest link in this particular chain, but now it seems, taken in context, that Szell plays up the work’s Mozartian elegance, a moment of relaxation between the twin peaks of the Third and Fifth. Szell’s “Eroica” has so many positive qualities that they are impossible to enumerate, including a coda to the finale that has never been matched for sheer physical excitement. Other highlights include one of the most thrilling Sevenths on disc, with an Allegretto that moves forward with a truly inexorable flow, like a force of nature. Both the Fifth (as dramatic and bold as any) and the Sixth (fresh and vibrant as a mountain spring) rank with the best. The “little” symphonies, 1, 2, and 8, reveal Szell’s respect for their 18th century precedents, without neglecting a certain muscularity and focus on the wind writing which is entirely Beethoven’s.  The Ninth might be viewed by some as a touch small in scale, but the performance has a boldness and urgency, especially in the finale, that really makes it sound like a younger man’s music. And let’s not forget the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, trained by Robert Shaw. What makes these performances so interesting is that they have only increased in stature over the years, particularly as the period instrument movement has made Szell’s lean, razor sharp handling of rhythm and clarity of texture sound ever more relevant–though at a level of sheer technical virtuosity that no period ensemble can match.  If for some reason you don’t own this set, stop resisting and just get it now.”