BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.  SIBELIUS:  Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/George Szell, cond.
PHILIPS 464 682 (M) (ADD)  TT:  73:53

Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 was recorded Nov. 28-30, 1966 (the same sessions that produced Mozart's Symphony No. 34 which was coupled with the Beethoven on the original LP issue); the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 was recorded Nov.30-Dec. 2, 1964. All were appropriately acclaimed on their initial LP issue. With the advent of CD collectors eagerly waited for these to appear on silver disk only to be disappointed when the Sibelius was issued as it was processed with the notorious "NoNoise" system that robbed the sound of its impact as well as some of its resonance. In 1995 Philips issued in their "Early Years" series a twin-CD set  (442 727) of all of Szell's Concertgebouw recordings (the Beethoven, Sibelius, Mozart and excerpts from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Schubert's Rosamunde). This time the transfers were quite good—but nothing like the sound heard on this new 96kHz 24-bit processed edition in Philips "Great Recordings" 50th Anniversary series.  he sound is extraordinarily vivid, with no loss of resonance or impact.

Unfortunately this release (like the Philips "Great Recordings" issue of Antal Dorati's Nutcracker, also creates a problem for the Concertgebouw collector.  When all of Szell's Concertgebouw recordings were issued in the "Early Years" series it was possible to include everything on two CDs—even though the producers elected to put the finale of the Mozart symphony at the beginning of CD 2. Had they divided the MND music, placing the "Wedding March" at the beginning of the second CD, the interruption would not have been as disturbing as breaking a Mozart symphony. However, now that they have issued the Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies on a single CD (wasting about 6 minutes of playing time), it isn't possible to include the remainder of Szell's Concertgebouw recordings on another CD. It's a puzzle why Philips didn't issue all of this together, properly programmed in a 2-CD set. Surely collectors would be interested in all of this music; now the rest may not appear as it won't fit on a single CD. Still, this Beethoven/Sibelius is highly recommended even for those who own the "Early Years" issue because of the marked improvement in sound quality.

R.E.B. (May 2001)