Some Background Information About This Recording...
R.D. Monsoon | 09/15/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While the packaging of this CD states that this is a "Live" recording, it leaves out the fact that it was originally a radio broadcast never intended to be released on vinyl, and now CD. (the LP release did include this information). That being said, this recording shouldn't be taken as Szell's official word on Mahler's 6th Symphony. (The recent popularity of releaasing radio broadcasts of deceased conductors has raised much debate. Szell for instance would have surely objected to this release. If you own the CD, you've mostlikely noticed that while the recording was made in '67, it wasn't released till '72, two years after Szell's death.)Besides being a great recording of the 6th, this recording also serves as rare historical document of Szell's legacy in Cleveland. Besides two commemorative box sets which the Cleveland Orchestra has independently issued, this is the only live recording of Szell with Cleveland at Severance Hall in print. Most impressively, this recording was made from only two performances while most live recordings are created from three to four concerts. Since the levels of the Andante seem lower than the other three movements, it's highly likely that movements I, II and IV all came from the same night. It's a tribute to Szell and Cleveland that an incedental Mahler concert has managed to become a staple of the catalogue 35 years later. Hopefully one day Sony will give this recording the remastering it deserves, but I'm not holding my breath.The lack of Mahler probably represents the biggest hole in Szell's orchestral discography. However, this could be changed. The Cleveland Orchestra has released stereo recordings of Szell conducting Mahler's 9th and "Das Lied von der Erde". Unfortunately, both these recordings are only available in two different expensive commemorative box sets. I urge everyone who has enjoyed Szell's Mahler to write the Cleveland Orchestra and ask that they release these two recordings outside of the box sets to help make Szell's Mahler discography more complete."
Jonathan Stern | New York, New York USA | 11/22/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mahler 6 on one budget CD! And with the incomparable George Szell and his spectacular Cleveland Orchestra to boot! We should only have more Mahler recordings from this team! The only major flaw that I can hear is that the recording lacks the clear (even glassy) sonics that was the hallmarks of the "Cleveland sound." This was actually a live 1967 concert recording first released in 1972 (two years after Szell's untimely death). Consequently, some of the ambience that we hear in so many other Szell/Cleveland efforts is missing. There are even several miscues (i.e. Trombone I falls behind one measure after the first hammer-blow in IV). Hopefully, Szell wasn't too angry afterwards! I hasten to add that despite the less-than-steller sonics and the unavoidable imperfections of a live concert, the Clevelanders play with imposing power and energy, great string sound and awe-inspiring brass (trumpets especially - people talk about the brass sections of the old Philly and Chicago sections and that of today's New York Phil.; why do few people speak of Cleveland's?).I - Szell's opening tempo is perfect: midway between Barbirolli's sometimes sluggish opening and the briskness of Kubelik and Bernstein (if you want a laugh, try Jarvi - he takes the exposition repeat, but races through the work at such blazing speed that there's room to spare on the single disc for another short piece!). The F-major theme (Mahler said this was a portrait of his wife, Alma) soars like never before or since, aided by the background instruments urging the music on at just the right pace. Unlike Jarvi, but like Barbirolli, Szell eschews the exposition repeat. This was more acceptable in the 60's than now, but you may want to consider this. The rest of the movement is flawlessly played and conducted by a master.II - Again, one cannot ask for a more imposing and perfectly paced Scherzo. The tempo is identical to that of opening of I - Mahler clearly meant this movement to be a parody of the first. In his discography, Lewis Smoley all but insists that the tempi should be identical. I agree simply because it sounds best that way, though I'm not 100% sure that Mahler himself would have made such an insistence. The trio sections are rather brisk - a more lilting waltz tempo and greater sense of delicacy would have added to the pathos and tragedy (according to Alma - who's not to be trusted always! - this trio section depicts their two children playing in the sand). In truth, only Levine and Haitink/Concertgebouw do full justice to the trios (at least in my experience). But oh, that orchestra!III - Szell chooses to avoid the warmth and richness that he brought to the slow movement of the Fourth. The result is rather straight, even plain at times, despite the wonderful strings.IV - A great tragic vision, with Szell leading the way and his orchestra with him at all times. Perfectly shaped intro (which is a real bear to conduct); outstanding march sections, the final one a mad descent into the Inferno; decent, if not overwhelming hammer-blows; and a shattering coda, despite the sub-par sound quality.In sum - great orchestra, above-average interpretation (the great passages are GREAT, some spots rather underdone, entire work well-conceived architechturally on the whole), good, but not great, sound. At this price, it's a steal. But if you want to spend the money, you might consider other options. Levine and Barbirolli were better performances over all, but they are out of print, I think. Currently available is the Bernstein/Vienna, one of the better late Lenny Mahlers. Great orchestra, fabulous sound, slightly better interpretation. Boulez is less cerebral than usual, but still less-than-fully-convincing."
Unique and brilliant interpretation
cmk | Oregon | 01/14/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"George Szell is probably my favorite conductor, but he even surpasses my expectations in this recording of Mahler's dark masterpiece. This is a no nonsense kinda performance, much less emotional then Bernstein's hyperemotional account with the VPO on DG. However, it is no less effective. I think Szell really sees this a one big march to death. And it works very well. The first movement begins with big, heavy strings thumping their A's. Szell's tempo is my favorite for this movement. Not dragging, but not too fast either. In the Scherzo, opening Timpani blows are the most penetrating and deep that I have ever heard. I don't think there is a recording that can beat it. The tempo is identical to the first movement, as to say that the march is continuing onward. The 3rd movements tempo is at a true Andante. It is probably the fastest on record, clocking in at 13'30. However, this does not make it any less beautiful. I like my slow movements as gorgeous as possible, and I have never had a problem with the interpretation of this movement. In the finale, Szell maintains the tempo almost throughout, only slowing up a little around the hammerblows, which only adds to the excitement. It really feels like we are spiraling down a dark pit in the last few minutes. Szell follows Mahlers indication to delete the 3rd hammerblow. The sudden explosion at the end of the Coda is the most terrifying and most rude sounding I have ever heard, as it should be. It scares the heck outta me everytime. The brass is spectacular throughout, especially in the finale. The Clevelander's play like their lives depend on it. The sound quality is respectable. But, the interpretation and performance makes up for any zilches in the sound quality overwhelmingly. And, besides all this, it comes at a budget price! You can't go wrong here. Get this disc ASAP, even if you already have this piece."
Szell's Great, No Nonsense Interpretation of Mahler's 6th
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 12/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At this price, this CD is a steal, but better yet, it comes with one of the finest recorded versions of Mahler's 6th Symphony. Szell offers a no nonsense approach to Mahler, taking a sharp tack away from Bernstein's emotionally wrought interpretations. Instead, Szell conducts with a more even keel, yielding a graceful, yet still very dramatic, interpretation from his Cleveland Orchestra. Much to my amazement, the sound quality is impeccable for a live recording, especially when this CD hasn't been remastered with the latest digital image bit technology. Szell's recording of this symphony has been justly acclaimed in the Penguin Guide to CDs as one of the finest available. You couldn't go wrong acquiring this CD as either a definitive performance or as yet another to go with your Bernstein recordings."
A fabulous bargain
Ray Barnes | Surrey, British Columbia Canada | 04/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even if you already own one or more complete sets of the Mahler symphonies, I would still recommend adding this CD to your collection. I would rank it alongside Michael Gielen's live recording of the 8th as among the best budget priced performances of one symphony in the entire catalogue. This effort has all the fine qualities that marked Szell's best work in Cleveland, with immaculate and precise playing, and dramatic but unexaggerated conducting. The tempo is convincing and the playing has great rhythmic control, particularly in the 2nd movement. The CD has well balanced sound and adequate range. The entire work has been fitted onto one CD without compromising the interpretation, or the sound quality, in any way. This performance is equal in quality to his fine 4th Symphony. Strongest recommendation."