The Music Plays On

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George Szell

There are pairings of conductors and composers that, on the surface, may not seem like a likely fit. For whatever reason, I never considered that the micromanagement of George Szell would work with the music of Jean Sibelius. Boy, was I wrong!

Part of the problem is that Szell only recorded Sibelius’ Symphony №2 in the studio once, and not even with his orchestra, or on his typical record label. Nevertheless, this Philips recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra proves Szell to be exactly what this symphony needs! Sibelius’ long lines need all of their rather complicated little parts to work just so. And there’s no one better at that than Szell!

However, there is an even better version that was recorded live with ‘his’ orchestra — the Cleveland Orchestra — in 1970. It’s been released on Sony in Japan, but never in the United States. It has become one of my favorite recordings, without question.