Skip to main content Skip to footer site map




The first ever collection of George Szell's Complete Recordings for Columbia Masterworks on 106 CDs is now available thanks to Sony Classical. The collection features symphonies, overtures and other orchestral works, concertos and chamber music, recorded from 1946 to 1969, 92 recordings remastered from the original analogue tapes using 24 bit / 192 kHz technology.

An all-embracing survey of George Szell's recorded achievements with The Cleveland Orchestra, spanning some 23 years of recording. Includes collaborations with Robert Casadesus, Rudolf Firkušný, Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman, Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin, Zino Francescatti, Isaac Stern, Joseph Szigeti, Pierre Fournier, Leonard Rose and Judith Raskin, and recordings with the New York Philharmonic and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Hard-cover illustrated coffee table book with an essay by Jürgen Kesting, photos from The Cleveland Orchestra archives, full discographical notes and work index.

"In the heyday of George Szell's tenure as its chief conductor," declared Gramophone, "The Cleveland Orchestra had few if any peers among the world's great orchestras." Coinciding with the orchestra's Centennial birthday in December 2018, Sony Classical is excited to announce one of the most ambitious reissue projects of recent times, a comprehensive collection of the Clevelanders' recordings made under the baton of their iconic fourth music director. These span the period between 1947 - a year after Szell inherited a rising national ensemble from Erich Leinsdorf and began transforming it into the elite ensemble it remains to this day - and 1969, a year before his sudden death shocked the musical world. Born in Budapest in 1897, Szell's dream was to create an ensemble that combined "the Americans' purity and beauty of sound and their virtuosity of execution with the European sense of tradition, warmth of expression and sense of style," in the words of his biographer Michael Charry. That he fulfilled that dream is amply documented in the huge discography that fills Sony's new edition of 106 CDs, "recordings that are prized for their stylistic rightness, clarity of structure, rhythmic tension, and transparency of texture" (The New Yorker).The George Szell Cleveland Orchestra Complete Columbia Album Collection is now available.

The Cleveland Orchestra's Recording Legacy
The Cleveland Orchestra played its first recording session in 1924 and is today one of the most acclaimed and recorded orchestras in the world. The Orchestra's performances have been heard by millions through radio and television broadcasts, on LPs, CDs, DVDs, and via internet streams and downloads. The Orchestra's Severance Hall home was one of the first concert halls in the world built with recording and radio broadcasting capabilities.

About the George Szell Cleveland Orchestra complete Columbia album collection
Contained in this vast box are rare mono recordings, some of which have never before appeared on CD, including a Dvo?ák "New World" from 1952, a Beethoven Fifth from 1955 and orchestral extracts from Wagner's Ring from 1956. There are also the recordings Szell made in the early 1950s as guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic, including the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with Vladimir Horowitz. There are the pianist George Szell's outstanding chamber music recordings, including Mozart with the Budapest Quartet. There are also substantial interviews with the maestro. But the main attraction of this stupendous new set is the prospect of having all the Szell-Cleveland repertoire within a single framework for the first time and in optimal sound. To collectors that means, first and foremost, the great works of the Austro-German Classical and Romantic tradition, starting with Haydn: "Szell has the strings playing with immaculate rhythm, perfect intonation, and just the right amount of warmth in the slow movements. This is, in fact, an object lesson not in correct 'period' style, but in the correct Haydn style ... A landmark in the Haydn discography, and a cornerstone of any serious Haydn symphony collection" (ClassicsToday).

The new set brings together a body of Mozart interpretations that "stand the test of time. Classical poise, clear textures, elegantly structured phrasing, and no more sentiment than necessary characterized Szell's standard-setting approach to this repertoire, as well as the extraordinary degree to which the sharply honed Clevelanders honored their music director's wishes ... Szell's 'Jupiter' is one of the greatest ever, with the clearest, most exultant performance of the Finale on disc" (ClassicsToday). That description applies equally to the Mozart concertos. Szell was, famously, unrivalled as an accompanist. His legendary recordings with pianist Robert Casadesus are all here, in new DSD remasterings, as well as the classic performances of Nos. 19 and 20 with Rudolf Serkin, "a model Mozart pianist, not just with respect to the taste and virtuosity of his playing, but also in his understanding of how best to relate to his musical surroundings in a true chamber music give-and-take with the orchestra" (ClassicsToday).

And then Beethoven: the piano concertos with Leon Fleisher "proudly retain their reference status. This is vibrant and virile music making full of passionate sweep, arresting clarity, and genuine, chamber-like give and take between soloist and orchestra" (ClassicsToday). One of the conductor's most distinguished successors in Cleveland, Christoph von Dohnanyí, called Szell's Beethoven symphony cycle "the Bible", and critics have called it a gold standard that continues to defy time. All the symphonies in this latest reissue have recently been DSD remastered.

Another highlight here is "one of the two or three greatest sets of Schumann symphonies ever made and a cornerstone of Szell's art as a conductor" (ClassicsToday) - now remastered too. No less celebrated are his Brahms recordings, both symphonies - "The Cleveland Orchestra at its peak ... virtuosity ... detail ... ardour and warmth. The Third is a magnificent performance" (Penguin Guide) - and the piano concertos with Fleisher, which "glow with verve and vibrancy. A golden age for both orchestra and soloist has its memorial" (Gramophone), and with Serkin "at the peak of his form, emotionally, intellectually, and technically ... Miracles of dynamic shading ... a revelatory way with rhythm ... sustained acts of transcendental enquiry" (Gramophone).

Szell's remastered Wagner collection recorded in Severance Hall in 1965 "remains one of his most impressive ... The precision and beauty of tone clothe deeper understanding" (Penguin Guide). His famous interpretations of waltzes and overtures by Johann Strauss Jr. and members of his family are presented here remastered, as are his "miraculously detailed and immaculately phrased" recording of Dvo?ák's complete Slavonic Dances. And, writes ClassicsToday, "you won't find a more authoritative, urgently exciting, well-played collection of Dvo?ák's last three symphonies at any price". Szell's Cleveland recording of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony "is one of the great ones" (ClassicsToday).

A Gramophone reviewer not long ago declared: "If I were asked to choose a record of Szell's to show his art at its most inspired, I think it would be [Mahler's Fourth Symphony] ... There are few accounts on record of any Mahler slow movement as satisfying as this." "Just how masterly Szell was as a Straussian", also opined Gramophone, "is demonstrated in [Don Quixote with cellist Pierre Fournier, Don Juan and the Horn Concerto No. 1], recorded in 1960 and 1961. By then Szell had built The Cleveland Orchestra into what was regularly described - very fairly - as the finest in America." "Szell was Strauss the conductor's natural heir in terms of vivid pacing," pronounced the BBC Music Magazine, "and this is still perhaps the most trenchantly articulated and texturally clear Don Quixote of all ... Cleveland first horn Myron Bloom [produces] legato lines of mesmerising evenness in the First Horn Concerto."

Among the numerous distinguished performances of 20th-century music here, one cannot fail to mention the Second Symphony of William Walton, whose music Szell had been championing since the 1930s. Walton wrote a personal letter to the conductor, calling the recording "fantastic" and "stupendous ... phrased and balanced in an unbelievable way". Also included are the premiere recordings of Walton's Partita, commissioned for the orchestra's 40th anniversary in 1957, and his Variations on a Theme by Hindemith. No less important in Cleveland history was Samuel Barber's Pulitzer Prize-winning Piano Concerto, uniformly hailed as an "American classic" at its premiere. The work was composed for John Browning, who recorded it with Szell and the orchestra in 1964 and played it with them to enormous acclaim on an international tour the following year. It is paired here, as in its original LP release, with the first recording of William Schuman's A Song of Orpheus, composed for cellist Leonard Rose.

Related Articles View More Music Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Kaitlin Milligan