Every major conductor, and most not-so-major ones, comes around to recording Eine kleine Nachtmusik, but not so many do it as well as George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra strings. And let’s face it, you won’t find a period-instrument ensemble that plays with anything like this level of polish. The fact is, Szell’s conception of Mozart was not terribly far from “period” sensibilities: restrained use of vibrato, incisive rhythms, crisp ensemble, lively tempos, but also a welcome degree of warmth to the sound and of course incredible ensemble discipline and some of the best players on the planet. And he had real period instruments, meaning performers who owned top quality old violins and bows, not inferior modern reproductions of them. The result is as lovely a performance of Mozart’s perennially delicious Serenade as we are ever likely to hear.
This is the best Boulez recording in quite a while. He offers the canonic 12 Wunderhorn songs, meaning no Urlicht and no Das himmlische Leben in the original orchestration before it became the finale of the Fourth Symphony. You won't miss them. None of the songs are done as duets, and you won't be bothered by that either. The singing is exceptional: Magdalena Kozená combines a sweet timbre with plenty of personality and attention to the words; Christian Gerhaher's light, somewhat grainy baritone may not be to all tastes, but his unfailing musicality and his gusto (singing but never shouting) in the big "military" songs carries the day.
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