The terms "classic" and "definitive", so overused that they are in danger of losing their meaning, absolutely apply to these recordings. The Fleisher/Szell Brahms Piano Concertos, recorded in 1958 and 1962, had not been available since their 1980s incarnation as Odyssey LPs. Now, in amazingly solid, vibrant remastered sound Sony has resurrected these mighty performances, which along with Fleisher's Beethoven concerto recordings, are vital documents of this pianist's early prowess - stunning technique, penetrating musicianship, and well-channeled passion. Szell's fiery, tempestuous reading of the Piano Concerto No. 1's orchestral score (with a riled up Cleveland Orchestra) has never been surpassed, let alone equaled, not even by Szell himself in his subsequent recordings. Fleisher and Szell present the Second Concerto in a grandly classical manner, relating it to Beethoven's Emperor and avoiding the massiveness and bulk of some more recent interpretations. Here the pianist tellingly combines wit and intelligence with a powerful sense of urgency. The same goes for the appended Waltzes and Handel Variations from 1956, which Fleisher plays with such brilliance that we can't wait for the next passage. Sony has jettisoned the original cardboard packaging for the more sturdy jewel box, hence this new review. Whether paper or plastic, get these great performances while you still can
- Victor Carr; Classicstoday.com
The benchmark recording of Beethoven Piano concertos with incomparable Leon Fleisher and George Szell.
As one customer form amazon.com wrote: “This is an outstanding recording. Leon Fleischer and George Szell are a match made in heaven. The standouts in this collection are the Beethoven 4th and the Mozart 25th. George Szell was one of the absolute best conductors of concerti. The musicality and ensemble playing are flawless. The recording of the Mozart 25th is the best I've ever heard. Don't overlook one of Mozart's later masterpieces played so flawlessly. This particular work comes off best with a large modern orchestra,like the CSO, as opposed to a smaller ensemble. Great performances!”
Other reviews from Amazon.com
“Emil Gilels stands out as giant among giants,” wrote Gramophone when the Odessa-born pianist died in 1985. “In terms of virtuosity he was second to none, yet his leonine power was tempered by a delicacy and poetry that few have matched and none has surpassed.” Beethoven was at the heart of Gilels’ repertoire and in 1968 he recorded this complete cycle of the composer’s piano concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra and its long-standing maestro, another musical titan of the era, George Szell.
George Szell (1897-1970), one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century, was born in Budapest, studied piano, conducting, and composing in Vienna and Berlin, and learned his craft as a conductor in the opera houses of Europe. World War II brought him to America, where he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera (1942-1946), and finally led the Cleveland Orchestra from 1946 until his death, "molding the ensemble into one of the world's finest," as the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music notes. Szell and the Cleveland became as distinguished a collaboration as Toscanini and the NBC or Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Szell brought the Cleveland Orchestra to such a peak of perfection that many good judges considered the Cleveland under Szell the premier conductor/orchestra team in the world.
I can't think of any professional performer who wouldn't be glad to claim Graffman's tremendously solid, albeit simpler pianism. Indeed, Graffman's sense of forward sweep and sustaining power within long, introspective passages score over what Van Cliburn halfheartedly delivered in his own recording with the Boston Symphony a few years later…Reissued through Arkivmusic.com's "on demand" program, this disc is well worth hearing. -Jed Distler; classicstoday.com
George Szell brings classical lightness and drive to Beethoven's early symphony, all the while pointing up the composer's daring formal and harmonic inventiveness…. Szell's Pastorale is one of the great recordings, full of feeling and sinuous beauty. Victor Carr Jr
One of the great Hungarian conductors, Szell quickly transformed a middling Midwestern orchestra into one of the nation's Big Five.