BRUCKNER:  Symphony No. 8 in C Minor
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/George Szell, cond. (rec. 28/6/51

SHOSTAKOVICH:  Symphony No. 7, Op. 60 "Leningrad"
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Rafael Kubelik, cond. (rec. 9/2/50)


Here are two more additions to the Audiophile Classics Legendary Collection which at first seemed promising but turn out to disappoint because of poor sound.  The jewel cases for these talk about "Super Bit Mapping....the recording featured on this Audiophile Gold Disc has been quantified up to a level of twenty bits via Super Bit Mapping etc. etc."  However, no matter what modern technology is used for processing, the fact remains that both of these are poor recordings especially when one considers their vintage.  There are many live Concertgebouw performances from the early '50s that have sonics superior to what is heard here.

The Bruckner Eighth had its first Concertgebouw performances in 1920 when Hermann Abendroth lead it twice, Willem Mengelberg conducted it twice in 1921, and Otto Klemperer led two performances in 1929. Van Beinum scheduled it on his first concert after being appointed second conductor in September 1931 and gave it 15 more times in the next nineteen years.  During this same period Eugen Jochum led one performance, Rafael Kubelik two, and Bruno Walter conducted it four times. George Szell's performances of June 28/30, 1951 were his only Bruckner performances with the Dutch orchestra; the second of these is heard on this live recording.  Qualities of the performance are sabotaged by the poor sound quality, muddy to the extreme and lacking impact.  If you wish to have Szell's ideas on this symphony, get his Cleveland Orchestra 1966 recording available on a Sony budget-priced Essential Classics set (53519) coupled with the same composer's Symphony No. 3.  And for a Concertgebouw Bruckner Eighth you could not go wrong with Eduard van Beinum's dynamic Philips recording from 1955 (442 730).

Rafael Kubelik made many ventures into the avant-garde; one example is  his live recording of Orff's Prometheus recorded by the Bavarian Radio in 1975 [Orfeo C 526 9921], but his name is not associated with Shostakovich. The Leningrad was somewhat new in February 1950 when this concert took place; the world premiere was March 5, 1942; Arturo Toscanini led the NBC Symphony in the American premiere four months later. Kubelik's performance was the first for the Concertgebouw and apparently well received. A critic of the time said, "the huge public success that Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony enjoyed could be laid entirely at the conductor's door. The great success was in a large part due to the remarkable performance by Kubelik, who knew the 90-minute symphony by heart down to the last detail."  Well, it really wasn't 90-minutes (even Leonard Bernstein's brooding 1988 Chicago recording is five minutes less than that), and timing of the recording (73:22) includes about three minutes of audience sound/applause making Kubelik's clock in at about 70 minutes, rather hasty for this work (Yuri Temirkanov's 1995 St. Petersburg RCA recording is 76:38).

While audio quality is better for this recording than what is heard for Szell's Bruckner, the sound still is muffled—and  the Dutch audience included a few very noticeable coughers. Collectors still may wish to have these live performances, although they are mid rather than budget price.

R.E.B. (Jan. 2002)