"I was weaned on these recordings, so I will admit a bias for them. However, after hearing numerous recordings of the Seventh, I must still rank this one above the others. First of all, Szell's interpretations of Beethoven are legendary and seem to make the music as passionate and powerful as possible. Second, his orchestra at the time of these recordings was, simply put, the best on the planet. Unfortunately, in my listenings to all recordings of the Seventh, I have not yet heard an orchestra perfect the Siciliano rhythm of the First Movement (Ercih Leinsdorf reportedly sadi that he would not conduct this Symphony since an orchestra was incapable of performing this rhythm correctly) and this one is no different, with occasional spurts of correctness. My special passion for this performance comes in the Allegretto, where Szell was one of the first to adopt a tempo which does not drift the listener to sleep. As the entire Symphony was once dubbed "The Apothsosis of the Dance," this tempo is much more fitting than that of most rival recordings. Now out on a very affordable CD, this is still my recommendation for a Seventh, but with the Fourth and the Overture on the same disc, this should be in everyone's library."
Szell's Beethoven is for those who value precision over all
Alan Majeska | Bad Axe, MI, USA | 08/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Szell's recordings of the Beethoven Symphonies enjoyed wide circulation on Columbia, Epic, and later Odyssey LPs, and have been on CD since the late 1980s, and the current issue, the early 1990s, in differing couplings with other works. This should attest to their success, as they are played with great precision: not a note or phrase out of place, and there are no slack moments of ensemble. The Cleveland Orchestra plays so well, as one would expect: Szell's Beethoven is for those who value precision over all else.
Symphony 4 is a top recommendation. All movements are played at a sensible tempo, and there is never a sense of recklnessness, or that things are out of control. This recording was the first I heard of this work, and I became familiar with Beethoven Symphony 4 from this recording (Epic LP) in 1972. Symphony 7 may be considered less successful by some listeners, who value Bruno Walter (Sony), Karajan (DG, the 1962 or 1976 recordings, with the complete Beethoven Symphonies), or Bohm (DG) as authoritative in this piece. I for one like Szell's sensible tempos, and if the acoustics seem a little dry at times, one's mind is drawn to the great precision of the playing. The Cleveland horns are terrific, especially in movements I and IV. The KING STEPHEN Overture is well played, too, and the woodwind and horn fanfares in the closing coda really stir up a storm.
I would recommend this, but not as your only CD of these works. I recommend supplementing these with Beethoven Symphony recordings by Bruno Walter/Columbia Symphony (Sony, available individually), or Karl Bohm/Vienna Philharmonic (DG, in 2 CD sets which sell for the price of one). You can't go wrong with Szell, and even less so with Szell + Bohm or Walter; it's a "WIN/WIN" situation from the start."
Forceful, lyrical performances
drollere | Sebastopol, CA United States | 05/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"the beethoven cycle recorded by george szell and the cleveland orchestra in the early 1960's is a miraculous and distinctive account of the symphonies and major orchestral overtures. it manages at the same time to be true to the spirit of beethoven yet immediately fresh and new when compared with almost any other performance available on disc.szell raised the ensemble and technical control of the cleveland orchestra to an astonishing level, which allowed him many hair raising plunges through the music, for example in the last movements of the 5th and 7th symphonies. the orchestra could render the full dynamic range, and the strings -- for example in the first chords of the egmont overture -- were capable of the powerful, rich sonority we expect from a brass choir. the real beauty in szell's interpretations is the orchestra's almost balletic sensitivity to rhythm and musical accent. these musicians don't just play the music as a dance, they express dancing as they play. it's a treat to be surprised by this irresistible, springing dance spirit in movements that are so often played as academic forms -- the disc of the 1st and 6th symphonies provides many happy moments. one regrets that there's no szell recording of beethoven's "creatures of prometheus" available.i love these recordings. at a time when our culture relies on noise, speed, excess, vulgarity and lack of control to get our attention, it's a treat to hear beethoven that is sonorous, sprightly, forceful, lyrical and eloquent. and at a bargain price!"
David A. Beamer | Clawson, MI United States | 04/12/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had the entire cycle of Szell's Beethoven on LP when I was kid, so getting this CD was like getting re-acquainted with an old friend. Szell's command of the Cleveland Orchestra made it one of the top orchestras in the land during his tenure. (Cleveland!)This CD has excellent performances of these symphonies. The tempi are (almost) all just right (except for the last movement of the 4th, which is a bit slow for my taste). Szell keeps the second movement of the 7th moving -- too many conceive of it as a dirge. He does the last movement of the 7th just right: it has so much energy that you feel like it's just on the edge of going out of control. The scherzi are also done well: the 4th is on the relaxed side, the 7th extremely fast. Throughout, there is usually just the right amount of rubato where it's required.My only quibbles with this CD are very minor. The balance seems a bit heavy on the lower notes -- the cellos and basses are a bit too strong and muddy at times. An old friend of mine had a rule about judging a performance of the 4th: listen to the fast fortissimo entrance of the cellos and basses right near the end of the last movement. If it doesn't make the hair on the back of neck stand up, then seek another recording. Szell does OK here, but there are better. (E.g. Bernstein's 60's recording with the NY Phil -- the low strings just explode!)So, if you don't have a copy of the 4th and/or want another copy of the popular 7th, you won't be disappointed with this choice."
These are two great recordings of fabulous works plus the Ki
Craig Matteson | Ann Arbor, MI | 03/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I still remember what it was like hearing Beethoven's seventh symphony the first time, and it was this recording. The last movement had accents that felt like hammer blows to me and those groaning basses and soaring horns were sounds I had never heard before. This was something I knew I wanted to pursue. Wow!
The fourth symphony (Opus 60 in B-flat major) is a magnificent work that I appreciate more each time I hear it. Not much is known about its composition except that it was done in the summer of 1806 and its writing interrupted the work on the fifth symphony in c-minor. It was first performed in March of 1807 along with his first three symphonies, a piano concerto, and others of his works during two concerts at a Prince L's house. The review noted that the works (not just the 4th symphony) were rich in ideas, boldly original, full of power, but many felt the ideas were not fully worked out because there were just so many ideas. This, the notice said, often created the effect of rough diamonds.
What I love most about the fourth symphony is its display of Beethoven's wonderful humor. He has the ability to put the right thing in the wrong place in ways that tickly, startle, make me laugh out loud, and settle back in complete amazement. In the hands of a great conductor this is a symphony that can astound without ever having to resort to big effects or bombast. The first movement has this long wandering opening that keeps one guessing and then takes off with brilliant ease. The second movement has one of Beethoven's most beautiful melodies that soon wanders into something more stout, sounds like it might take off, then might sing us the opening again, but never quite does.
The third movement is one of my favorite pieces of music when done right. This is real syncopation, not the fake kind where EVERYTHING is off the beat. This piece keeps moving us around so we think we know where we are, but he takes it away as soon as we think we have it. What joy we feel with this movement because its humor is so much fun. The fourth movement starts a like it perpetual motion piece, but doesn't deliver that either. Again, Beethoven is laughing and soon brings us a delightful tune that is contrasted with grinding bombast for and elbow in the ribs effect. Again, we get the fun of real syncopation. The minor mode was never so much fun as it in providing its over the top contrasting material here.
The seventh symphony (Opus 92 in A major) was premiered in 1813 to immediate success (though Beethoven had begun work on it in 1809) and has been a favorite with audiences ever since. It has so much brilliance and energy that you would have to be a corpse to not be lifted by it. Many have been so carried away as to ascribe their own "program" to the piece. One Dr. Iken claimed to hear the story of a revolution and laid out the drama. Beethoven was incensed at this and all other nonsense stories ascribed to his music. Wagner called this piece "The Apotheosis of Dance" and the music has actually been used in ballet.
The first movement is quite complex its contrasts. It is buoyant and even soars, but then has these quiet and moments of stillness that threaten to stop everything, but then off we go again. The second movement is another of my favorite works. It is a movement with a mournful sweetness that pulls of and exquisite beauty that I still find awe inspiring. Yes, it is clearly a dance, but its materials are so spare and unprepossessing that one cannot imagine the beauties that will emerge in this aching and yet sweet music. Once you hear the music and know the movement you still wonder at how he came up with the ideas for this piece. What else is like it?
The third movement starts with an energetic start from the orchestra supported by a gentle boot from the tympani. You can hear foreshadowings of the crazy scherzo from the ninth and you certainly can hear the groaning of the basses from the first movement in the low winds. Again, a movement of big contrasts and a lot of fun. The last movement starts with an explosion and just takes off from there. Turn up the volume and enjoy the way Beethoven keeps things going even when he pulls back a bit, and then adds more and more each time he crescendos. The energy becomes so intense one might feel frantic, but the music never loses control. That groaning bass figure becomes more prominent and the hammer blows forge the music into a sharper and stronger form.
Szell conducts these works with intelligence, understanding, and real with. I love these recordings. You may have other favorites and that is fine. I am not claiming these as the one and only. But I am claiming; WOW!
Do we really care about the King Stephen overture after hearing the seventh symphony? I don't."