Classical Reissue Reviews

George Szell = BLACHER: Music for Cleveland; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major; STRAVINSKY: Fireworks, Fantasy for Orchestra – Robert Casadesus, p./ Cologne Radio Sym. Orch. – Guild

Almost equals the kind of power the Cleveland Orchestra produced at Szell’s beck and call.

Published on October 2, 2013

George Szell = BLACHER: Music for Cleveland; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major; STRAVINSKY: Fireworks, Fantasy for Orchestra – Robert Casadesus, p./ Cologne Radio Sym. Orch. – Guild

George Szell = BLACHER: Music for Cleveland; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73; STRAVINSKY: Fireworks, Fantasy for Orchestra, Op. 4 – Robert Casadesus, piano/ Cologne Radio Symphony Orch./ George Szell – Guild GHCD 2404; 77:53 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Master orchestral disciplinarian George Szell (1897-1970) sojourned to Cologne, Germany for this historic 1958 broadcast, bringing with him repertory both new and familiar. Among the novelties, Szell leads Boris Blacher’s commissioned work, 1957 Music for Cleveland, Op. 53, whose world premier occurred 21 November 1957. A rather nervous twittering piece, Blacher’s piece exploits triple wind, brass, and four trumpets in often angular, dissonant patterns, edgy and a mite neurotic. As a virtuoso etude for the Cleveland Orchestra, it testifies to a canny discipline while providing a jagged foil to the Mozart that follows. Framing the established repertory on the closing side, Szell proffers a rare look into early Stravinsky, his 1908 Fireworks, likely influenced by the Debussy piano piece, but owing its scintillating color to Stravinsky’s teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov.

French keyboard great Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) made numerous appearances with George Szell, recording twelve of the Mozart concertos. Their mutual finesse in the last of the set, the B-flat Major, K. 595 exudes only exultation and refinement. When Casadesus begins his upward scales and rockets to the blending of the orchestra in the Allegro’s development section, we can feel that even the acerbic Herr Szell ached for transcendence. Perhaps of all three movements the E-flat Major Larghetto projects the most serenity of spirit, with Casadesus’ gentle figures set in classical relief against the occasional minor-key passions in the orchestra.

The essentially bucolic 1877 D Major Symphony of Brahms under Szell combines a linear flow and direction with an exalted bloom within the winds and strings, especially the Cologne cellos. Szell gives the three trombones in the first movement development their full scope, enough to suggest a dark cloud – along with the rolling tympani – amidst the sunny skies. While the two interior movements permit Szell excursions into nostalgia and thoughts of outdoor serenades, respectively, the last movement caters to Szell’s sense of the flamboyantly urgent in music. The burst of power that adds the con spirito to the mix – including the wailing of the Cologne clarinet that rises to refined ecstasies – gains a potent momentum that barely relaxes until just before the final bars in which the Cologne afterburners now resemble the kind of power the Cleveland Orchestra produced at Szell’s beck and call.

—Gary Lemco




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