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  Sony Classical -
  SS 89415
  Mahler: Symphony No. 10, Stravinsky: Firebird etc. - Szell
  Mahler: Symphony No. 10, Stravinsky: Firebird Suite, Walton: Partita for Orchestra

Cleveland Orchestra
George Szell (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
  Single Layer
Recording type:
Recording info:
  SRGR759 in Japan.

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Related titles: 14 show all

Reviews: 2

Review by seth January 12, 2006 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
The obvious theme of this disc is 20th Century music by composers of different nationalities, conducted by a man who openly claimed to have little affinity for 20th century music. I suspect that Szell approved of this music because of the way each piece blends 19th and 20th century sensibilities; nothing is too 'modern' sounding. While Mahler still adheres to the late 19th century practice of developing a clear thematic idea over a long period of time (a la Brahms and Bruckner), his tonal palette and sonorities have moved into the 20th century; lots of un-romantic awkward moments and outcries from the orchestra. While there are many romantic characteristics of Stravinsky's early ballets, he disposes with the romantic practice of extended thematic development and instead has many short movements with brief thematic ideas. Walton's Partita is something that Stravinsky perhaps would have composed had he not shifted to writing chamber and neoclassical music after the First World War, and then later 12-tone. The Partita, rarely performed or recorded, is sort of a multi movement ABA rhapsody for orchestra. Like "The Firebird," there are clear but brief thematic ideas, colorfully orchestrated.

The disc opens with a particularly involving account of the Mahler 10 Andante, where the single movement is treated as a complete work itself. The performance is meditative and stark where it needs to be. While it doesn't sound quite as much as a 20th century work as Gielen's recordings do, I can live with that. The other 'completed' movement from the 10th, the 3rd movement Purgatorio (about two hundred measures were written out and the orchestration was easy to fill in), is included. For whatever reason, it rarely appears outside of reconstructed versions of the 10th (maybe because it sounds so awkward following the Andante). This recording of it was never released on CD while the Andante was.

Walton's Partita is a dazzling orchestral show piece with virtuosic parts for all instruments. While I have never heard another recording or performance of it, it's hard to imagine anyone topping Cleveland's playing.

Finally, this recording of the "Fire Bird" 1919 Suite is a must own no matter how many other recordings of it you have. The clear hero is the orchestra. The recording is a text book on virtuosity. The Infernal Dance, for instance, is taken at a very fast clip. The orchestra's precision and ultra clean phrasing are uncanny. Brass playing is particularly noteworthy. Szell does an excellent job with the pacing, masterfully maintaining the mystery in the Introduction, and building up to the explosive climax of the Finale. An interesting interpretational touch is in the Variation of the Firebird. Where most conductors play through this fast, Cleveland's playing is more deliberate and chunky. It works quite well.

Sound quality is not demonstration, but gets the job done and certainly does not detract from the performances or listening experience. The Mahler dates from 11/58, Walton 1/59, and Stravinsky 3/61. In all the recordings there isn't much sense of depth or space around the instruments; sonic impact is a bit lacking, especially in bass. In the Mahler and Walton the sound is a bit coarse at times. Now for the good. The string sections are superbly well defined; you could drawl lines in front of your speakers marking where each section is. Imaging is good. Brass and winds are well spread out and clear sounding. This is probably where the recordings are the biggest step up from previous CD and LP incarnations, where winds and brass were squeezed together in the center and sounded distant, physically located way behind the strings.

Final conclusion: The Partita is a gem; this must own version of "The Firebird" will probably never sound better. Recommended.

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Review by Ed T January 27, 2003 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
A new one for me. Most impressive. As usual for Szell and the Cleveland of this era, great ensemble and virtuoso playing. Sound in the Mahler and Walton a bit rough. Firebird quite nice sounding version an excellent interpretation.

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Works: 3  

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (Adagio)
Igor Stravinsky - L'oiseau de feu (Firebird) - Concert Suite No. 2 (1919)
William Walton - Partita for Orchestra