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George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra: The Forgotten Recordings

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SOMM RECORDINGS announces the first release of never before available performances by one of the defining partnerships of modern American music in the specially priced two-CD set George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra: The Forgotten Recordings.

Long considered one of America’s “Big Five” orchestras, the Cleveland Orchestra entered its second century in 2018 and earlier this year was hailed by The New York Times as “America’s finest [orchestra] still”.

The Forgotten Recordings features eight historic performances made for the Book-of-the-Month Club in 1954 and 1955 – seven of which are first releases – that have been restored and remastered by the multi-award- winning audio restoration engineer Lani Spahr, who also provides extensive and informative booklet notes.

Three works – Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite (BWV 1068), a revealing engagement by Szell with a composer he is not usually associated with, Smetana’s The Moldau and Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel (with an early spotlight on legendary horn player Myron Bloom) were recorded in mono in a remarkably productive session on Christmas Eve, 1954.

From October 1955 in stereo recordings are two works by Brahms – his Haydn Variations and the Academic Festival Overture, two symphonies – Mozart’s No.39 and Schumann’s Fourth – and a Stravinsky Firebird Suite that “crackles with energy”.

“Here”, says Spahr, “we can appreciate that the orchestra was well on its way to becoming, in Szell’s words, ‘this glorious instrument… that perfectly reflects my musical ideals’.”

Lani Spahr’s restorations of historic Elgar recordings for SOMM include Elgar Rediscovered (SOMMCD 0167), the four-disc set Elgar Remastered (SOMMCD 261-4) hailed by Audiophilia as “a fascinating achievement which will have you wishing for more”, and two volumes of Elgar from America (Ariadne 5005 and 5008), which MusicWeb International called “a model of one of the things the CD should be doing: filling the medium to capacity with engaging and/or controversial interpretations that one cannot simply over-hear…Essential listening”.

On This Recording

    CD 1
    J.S. Bach

  1. Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068 – Ouverture
  2. Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068 – Air
  3. Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068 – Gavotte I/II
  4. Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068 – Bourrée
  5. Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068 – Gigue
  6. Smetana

  7. The Moldau (Vltava) from Má vlast
  8. Richard Strauss

  9. Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
  10. Mozart

  11. Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543 – Adagio – Allegro
  12. Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543 – Andante con moto
  13. Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543 – Menuetto
  14. Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543 – Allegro
  15. CD2
    Brahms

  16. Academic Festival Overture, Op.80
  17. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Thema – Chorale St. Antoni – Andante
  18. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation I: Poco più animato
  19. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation II: Più vivace
  20. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation III: Con moto
  21. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation IV: Andante con moto
  22. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation V: Vivace
  23. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation VI: Vivace
  24. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation VII: Grazioso
  25. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op.56 – Variation VII: Presto non troppo
  26. Variations on a Theme by Haydn Op.56 – Finale – Andante
  27. Schumann

  28. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op.120 Ziemlich langsam-Lebhaft
  29. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op.120 – Romanze: Ziemlich langsam
  30. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op.120 – Scherzo: Lebhaft
  31. Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op.120 – Langsam – Lebhaft
  32. Stravinsky

  33. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Introduction
  34. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – The Firebird and its Dance
  35. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Variation of the Firebird
  36. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Round of the Princesses
  37. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Infernal Dance of King Kastchei
  38. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Lullaby
  39. The Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Finale

Reviews:

“newly released in an expert Lani Spahr transfer by SOMM as part of a two-disc programme of Szell/Clevland recordings… Two items could as well serve as benchmark examples of Szell’s art, Smetana’s Vlatava, where woods and meadows, the farmer’s wedding, the round dance of the mermaids, and the moonlight scene are all beautifully handled, a perfect example of each orchestral desk listening to what the others are doing. … Another highlight is Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite, a veritable ‘concerto for orchestra’, where the Clevelanders excel in every department. … Spahr himself produced the collection and undertook the audio restoration, and has additionally provided first-rate annotation. If there are any Szell doubters among your music-loving friends, this excellent set might prove a compelling way to win them over.” —Rob Cowan, Gramophone (Editor’s Choice)

“…it’s fascinating to hear the partnership when their much-vaunted precision was well in progress, if not immaculate. … The stereo recordings… show how far the orchestra had come… a masterclass in pacing, with some beautiful wind playing. Best of all are Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which gets the kick it needs, especially in the scherzo and finale, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, colourful and balletic.” —Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine (Critic’s Choice ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

“All the works featured are making a first appearance on CD, with the exception of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. These compelling aural documents have been expertly restored by Lani Spahr, who has also contributed the booklet notes, running to 19 pages. All in all, the entire project is an unmitigated success.” —Stephen Greenbank, MusicWeb International

“One of the great conductors, George Szell remains synonymous with the Cleveland Orchestra, the ensemble he moulded into one of the World’s elite… This Somm twofer features eight historic performances… [and] splendid they sound, too, whether mono or stereo, all set down in the Masonic Auditorium. … Phenomenal playing.” —Colin Anderson, Colins Column

“These 1954-55 discs show Szell at his most powerful, and his Cleveland players on the way to becoming among the world’s best. … Bach’s Suite 3, Schumann’s Symphony No 4, Brahms’s Haydn Variation, Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird, and Smetana and Strauss (Till Eulenspiegel) are all splendidly vital and incisive.” —David Cairns, The Sunday Times

“…an effective archway rife with the Cleveland magic, and we gladly embrace this performance restored to us. … Szell leads the orchestra to a brilliant apotheosis, fine testimony to his boast that ‘This orchestra plays like a very great soloist’.” —Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Full Review)