SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B Flat, Op. 38. "Spring" (Rec. Oct. 24-25,
1958). Symphony No. 3 in E Flat, Op. 97 "Rhenish" (Rec. Oct.
21, 1960). Manfred Overture, Op. 115 (Rec. Oct. 24-25, 1958).
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C, Op. 61 (Rec. Oct. 24, 1961). Symphony
No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 (Rec. March 20, 1960). WEBER: Oberon Overture
(Rec. Jan 4-5, 1963)
STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28. Don
Juan, Op. 20.
Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24 (All rec. Mar. 29-30, 1957)
DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88 (Rec. Oct. 24-25,
31 and Nov. 1, 1958). Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From
the New World." (Rec.
Mar. 20-21, 1959)
WAGNER: "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" from Das
of the Valkyries" and "Magic Fire Music" from Die
Murmurs" from Siegfried. "Dawn," "Siegfried's
Rhine Journey and Funeral Music," conclusion of Act III of Götterdämmerung
(All rec. Oct. 7, 11-12, 1968) Prelude to Die Meistersinger.
Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan
and Isolde (Rec. Jan. 26, 1962).
WALTON: Partita for Orchestra (Rec. Jan. 21, 1959). STRAVINSKY:
Firebird Suite (Rec. Feb. 24 & Mar. 3 & 4, 1961). MAHLER: Andante and Purgatorio from Symphony No. 10 (Rec. Nov. 1, 1958).
STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring. (Rec. Jan. 5 & 6, 1960).
Firebird Suite (Rec. Jan. 18, 1967)
These are five disks (seven counting the two not pictured) are among the finest in Sony's initial batch of SACDs (Super Audio Compact Disk) issued about three years ago. These disks are full price and can only be played on a SACD unit, unlike SACDs of most other companies, which can also be played on a regular CD player as the disks also include tracks for regular non-SACD listening. However, if you have an SACD player you surely will notice a difference between what is heard on the regular CD version(s) of these famous recordings and what is heard on SACD. SACD permits more accurate reproduction of exactly what was on the original tapes, and even though many of these recordings were made 46 years ago (!!!) the original recordings were superb for their time—and now we can hear everything that was on the original tapes. There is no cut off in high frequencies, extended dynamic range and there seems to be more space around the orchestra. On occasion one can hear the conductor's stamping on the podium, which was not as apparent in previous issues. Szell's Schumann symphonies always have been considered among the best, vigorous, dynamic readings of great power, with sizzling intensity (just listen to the finale of Symphony No. 4). Szell's Strauss recordings also are legendary; he worked with the composer in earlier years—this is one of the most powerful interpretations of Death and Transfiguration ever recorded, and now we can hear the "transfiguration" climax with brass upon brass as never before. Dvorák also was a specialty of Szell—there are few other recordings available of both symphonies that equal these.Another Szell SACD of particular merit features Walton's Partita for Orchestra written in 1957 for Szell and his orchestra, premiered by them the following year and recorded in 1959. Also we have the only Szell Stravinsky recording, the 1919 version of the Firebird Suite, with the Andante and Purgatorio from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 filling out the CD.
Stravinsky's own recordings of his music are invaluable, without the histrionics of many other conductors—the music makes its own powerful statement, and now you can hear it all. Incidentally, there is a fascinating DVD video that contains this same 1945 version of the Firebird Suite with the composer conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra recorded Sept. 1965 (see REVIEW).
All of these SACDs are highly recommended; to some extent it's like hearing these treasurable performances for the first time. It's unfortunate the price is steep, and that these are not hybrid CDs.
R.E.B. (July 2003)