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Schubert: Symphony No. 8 Unfinished / No. 9 The Great (Essential Classics)

4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 17, 1992
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Schubert's two greatest orchestral works on one CD at budget price--if the performances were indifferent this would be no bargain at all, but they are superb. In fact, these versions may have been equaled, but they have never been surpassed. George Szell understood intuitively how to balance Romantic passion with intellectual discipline. In difficult pieces like the Schubert Ninth, he rose to the challenge like an Olympic athlete after a new world record. The recordings he made in his prime with his own Cleveland Orchestra comprise one of the most satisfying legacies in the history of classical music on disc. Within even this impressive legacy, these performances stand high.

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Schubert's two greatest orchestral works on one CD at budget price--if the performances were indifferent this would be no bargain at all, but they are superb. In fact, these versions may have been equaled, but they have never been surpassed. George Szell understood intuitively how to balance Romantic passion with intellectual discipline. In difficult pieces like the Schubert Ninth, he rose to the challenge like an Olympic athlete after a new world record. The recordings he made in his prime with his own Cleveland Orchestra comprise one of the most satisfying legacies in the history of classical music on disc. Within even this impressive legacy, these performances stand high. --David Hurwitz
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Cleveland Orchestra
  • Conductor: George Szell
  • Composer: Franz Schubert
  • Audio CD (November 17, 1992)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony
  • ASIN: B0000027XR
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,316 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I guess I'll have to disagree with everyone on one point or another. I simply love Szell's versions of both symphonies and despite owning other efforts, this is the disc I always come back to. Szell's 4th movement of the 9th is just beyond belief. If you aren't up dancing in less than a minute check your pulse...chances are you're dead and just don't know it. And quite frankly, as much as I enjoy Furtwangler's work in Beethoven, I do NOT recommend his version of the 9th...more emphasis on length than heaven, and it does not make me dance. At less than a ten-spot, this Szell disc cannot be beat.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
There's not much I can say that other reviewers haven't covered in spades, but I do want to call attention to David Hurwitz's line about balancing passion with discipline. This is particularly true in the "Unfinished" symphony, which always runs the risk of being bogged down with sap by well-meaning but overly Romantic conductors. Szell's "Unfinished" is appropriately spooky and atmospheric, tender and lyrical, and furious by turns, but its hallmark is that it keeps moving, never allowing the momentum to flag. It's similar to Carlos Kleiber's famous recording, but I think Szell's is even better: Kleiber brings an intensity that almost overwhelms the work's atmosphere, whereas Szell balances his momentum with a keen ear for the mood of each movement, resulting in a performance that perfectly captures the completely unique sound of this symphony. The same is true in the "Great" symphony, wherein Szell and the Clevelanders somehow combine incisive rhythmic attacks and metronome-perfect precision with the singing quality unique to Schubert's music. Listen in particular to the sharply accented opening of the Scherzo (with the strings digging away at their instruments!), and then contrast it with the lilting, bucolic Trio, in which Szell calls attention to the beautiful scenery without bogging down the whole works in Romantic admiration. A truly thoughtful, well-considered performance that isn't afraid to be intellectual *or* powerful, and does indeed miraculously combine the two. A seemingly impossible feat? Yes, but this is Szell and Cleveland - impossible was the order of the day. The hell-for-leather last few measures of the "Great", with that last note that blasts out of the speakers, cement the greatness of the rest of this disc. This disc would be a bargain at ten times the price, but for the price it's offered at, you should feel no hesitation at clicking that "Buy" button right now. As far as I know, this CD's out of print, so don't wait until it's gone.
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Format: Audio CD
Though there are a number of very fine recorded performances of the Schubert Ninth, it's this one by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra I return to most frequently. I gather that others either love or hate Szell in this, his first stereo version, originally recorded for Columbia on the Epic label. Many also feel the 1952 DGG Furtwangler is the greatest "C Major" ever put on disc. I do not. Despite the reverence many have for Furtwangler I do not particularly care for what I hear at times as a tendency to draw out slower passages. By comparison, I prefer Szell's relative tautness of line and somewhat more mobile pace during slower segments. I also find his choices of inflections and his manner of displaying radiance and grandeur more appealing in contrast to Furtwangler's approach. After listening frequently to Szell's interpretation for many years, I have come full circle, from fondness to disfavor to admiration. In sum, I am able to "smell the flowers", enjoy the driving energy, as well as revel in the superb articulation of the Cleveland Orchestra all at once. One of Szell's finest accounts ever and surely one of the greatest "Greats". Excellent alternatives are the very satisfying interpretations by Bernstein/New York Philharmonic and Krips/London Symphony as well as the powerful, richly textured version with Hermann Abendroth and the Leipzig Radio Orchestra in monophonic sound only.

As for the "Unfinished", it is a fine performance on technical grounds. Emotionally, I perceive it as just a bit unyielding. More importantly, it just doesn't move me. There's one version of this symphony that has long stood as my absolute favorite---Bruno Walter's with the New York Philharmonic. It's literally poetry in motion, and it's very special. Though not the equal of Walter, Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic provide an extremely well characterized alternative.
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Format: Audio CD
I recently purchased the CD reissue of this recording for Szell's reading of the Unfinished. I remember being impressed with it in its original coupling with the Mendelssohn Italian Symphony on vinyl disc. Szell's recordings of both the Eighth and the Ninth Symphonies are superb. I played two other vinyl disc recordings of the Unfinished before playing Szell to select a recording for inclusion on a tape of Schubert's music. I listened to Karajan, then Giulini. I found the Giulini superior to the Karajan, but the Szell vastly superior to both. Listen to the Unfinished on bookshelf speakers. Szell gives everything in interpreting this music, restraint in the piano passages, thunder in the fortissimos, perfect pacing and warmth throughout. I have been a rabid collector of classical recordings since the early 70's, and I regard this recording along with Solti's complete Carmen opera and Ormandy's Pathetique on Sony as representing the very pinnacle of the recorded romantic repertoire.
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