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Symphony No.8 Symphony No.9


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Disc: 1
1. I. Allegro Vivace E Con Brio
2. II. Allegretto Scherzando
3. III. Tempo Di Menuetto
4. IV. Allegro Vivace
Disc: 2
1. I. Allegro Ma Non Troppo, Un Poco Maestoso
2. II. Molto Vivace
3. III. Adagio Molto E Cantabile
4. IV. Presto - Allegro Assai - Rezitativo: 'O Freunde, Nicht Diese Tone!' - Allegro Assai

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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Aggressive Beethoven undone by poor sound Sept. 18 2012
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Even in a marketplace dominated by reissues, it's rare to find live concerts under Szell outside Cleveland. This pairing of the Beethoven Eighth and Ninth dates from a three-concert series that Szell gave in Nov. 1968 with the briefly renamed New Philharmonia; the venue is royal Festival Hall. The sound is good FM broadcast sound, shallow in the bass and in mono. The conductor brought is own parts with him because he favored doubling various horn and woodwind passages in both symphonies (the Ninth apparently follows Wagner's suggestions about doublings in the Ninth).

The Eighth gets a reading strong on vigor, weak on charm. Szell doesn't drive the pace as hard as Toscanini did, but he's in the ballpark. Such a taut, lean interpretation isn't to my liking, but Szell's admirers will find tis Eighth as good as his studio account with Cleveland and perhaps more incisive. There are punchy accents and sudden dynamic changes to add to the hard-hitting effect.

Szell's studio account of the Ninth is one of his best known Beethoven recordings, and here the reminders of Toscanini are everywhere. For a stereo version of Toscanini's drive and tenseness, this Ninth comes as close as one will ever hear. Tautness and discipline are the order of the day. The style was wildly admired in its day, now much less so. It has the decided advantage of making Beethoven seem like a firebrand, a side of him that has decidedly cooled off. But there's not much breadth or humanity. The timpani is overmiked in the Scherzo, entering like an artillery volley. It's also a handicap to have this reading in mono so late in the game; for many listeners the Cleveland recordings wins automatically for being in stereo, but Szell is quite a bit more aggressive here, if that is an appealing quality.

The Adagio is taken slow enough (16 min.) to seem like a traditional Adagio rather than the sped-up modern pacing. Szell's handling of balances is exemplary, and he gives the music weight and seriousness, if not eloquence. The finale begins aggressively, due i part to the treble-dominant sonics. The contrasting episodes before the bass's solo entry are expertly handled, moving propulsively forward without becoming disjointed. The solo quartet is starry, although the tenor is horribly wobbly and Crass shouts out his "o Freunde" in the heat of the moment. The chorus is distant and their diction too fuzzy to understand. But clearly this Ninth was an event, despite sonic limitations. In better sound it would have been a more valuable addition to the Szell legacy.

Heather Harper, soprano/ Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano/ Ronald
Dowd, tenor/Franz Crass, bass/ New Philharmonia Chorus and
Orchestra/George Szell
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Mengelberg+Furtwangler+Oskar Fried = This June 14 2011
By Patrick Crosby - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Basically what you have here is the best of Mengelberg, Furtwangler, and Oskar Fried all rolled into one-- from of all people, George Szell. I would have never guess it in a million years, but it's true. Trust me, this is anything but dull.
horrible sound -- but what energy!! March 17 2015
By Stanley Crowe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The other day, I played and reviewed Kubelik's Beethoven Ninth, also issued by BBC Legends, also with New Philharmonia forces, but recorded 5 years later than the performances on these CDs. The sound quality on the Kubelik isn't great, but it's much better than what Szell gets from the engineers here. Too often, this is muddy, congested, and distorted, where, on the whole Kubelik's sound is pleasantly homogenous and where the chorus comes over well. I gave Kubelik 4 stars, and, with some reservation, I give this one four too. This one has the energy, fire, tension that Kubelik's performance doesn't really try for -- Kubelik is humane and warm, too tame in the scherzo, lovely in the adagio. Szell is a bit quicker in the first two movements, and the timings are similar in the last two, but Szell's accenting is much more forceful throughout, and even with the muddy sound the tension and energy come through. Szell's solo quartet is well-miked and sing very well (Harper, Baker, Dowd, and Crass), but the sound doesn't do justice to the chorus, who seem to be singing their heads off. For all the similarity in timing, Szell's last movement has a coherence and drive that Kubelik doesn't match. If Kubelik has the edge in the adagio, it might be as much a matter of sound as of interpretation. Szell's scherzo, though, is much more demonic in its drive.

This is a 2-disc set, with the Eighth Symphony on the other disc -- the booklet suggests that the two were played at the same concert. All the limitations of sound noted above are also true here. The reading sounds "bottom-heavy" (by which I mean simply that the lower instruments get more presence in the sound picture), but that doesn't mean it lacks energy -- in fact, it's an Eighth whose proximity to the Seventh has never been clearer. If you had the idea that it was primarily a graceful relatively minor piece, be prepared for a shock. All in all, this is one of the few recording where I can see past the pretty wretched sound for the sake of the energy. But be warned -- the sound IS wretched.
Live 1968 Szell in the UK: tense, edgy, fiery Beethoven March 8 2015
By Firebrand - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
George Szell's recordings with his own Cleveland Orchestra might offer the the best realizations of his musical interpretations, but his "on vacation"performances elsewhere---exemplified by these live 1968 concerts with the New Philharmonia---offer fascinating glimpses of how he dealt with other orchestras, and how these players (less familiar with his methods) responded to him.

The Beethoven Eighth was a Szell specialty, and Beethoven himself considered it his favorite of his own symphonies. Grossly misunderstood and overlooked by both interpreters and audiences alike as a jolly/happy and mannered bon bon, the Eighth is a blast of super concentrated power in the right hands. The score contains some of the most aggressive of all Beethoven as well as the most beautiful; the overturning of what appear to be old musical ideas, to be delivered with a bite and even a sneer of defiance, and rebellious musical mockery. Only a few have gotten this right, and Szell is one of them (Otmar Suitner and Gunter Wand are others). Szell's classic studio version with the Cleveland is similar but more polished, but this New Philharmonia rendition benefits from a thrillingly sharp-edged intensity. Is it a bit harsh? Yes, but it works.

The Ninth is a powerful performance that stands alongside a host of great golden age Ninths, taut, dramatic, intense, with the mandatory Szell touches like Olympian horns. However, Szell's studio recording with the Cleveland is even better, offering even more intensity and otherworldly clarity. It is no surprise that, even in concerts, Szell's own Cleveland players had a better feel for his intentions than the New Philharmonia (which was Klemperer's group at the time).


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