Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mozart: Symphony No. 39 (Szell)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)
Growing up in the 70s, I would hear the term "Big Five" bandied about as it applied to American orchestras - those of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland.  Thirty years prior, the number was the "Big Three" - neither the Chicago nor the Cleveland orchestras reached that exalted status until Fritz Reiner took over the one, and George Szell (1897-1970) the other.  Szell assumed the directorship in Cleveland in 1946, and held the post until his death, transforming the orchestra in the process.  Among the first of their many recordings is the following:

Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E Flat Major, K. 543
Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell
Recorded April 22, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MM-801, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 66.44 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.76 MB)

This wasn't Szell's first recording of the Mozart E Flat Symphony.  One of his earliest recordings featured it, an acoustical version for German Odeon with the orchestra of the Berlin Staatsoper in 1924.  Of great rarity, I should imagine - I've never encountered it.

The Cleveland Orchestra was already a fine one when Szell took it over, as many recordings with it by Nikolai Sokoloff, Artur Rodzinski and Erich Leinsdorf prove.  One of the first I ever owned is this one by Rodzinski of an old warhorse:

Tchaikovsky: Marche Slave, Op. 31
Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski
Recorded December 14, 1940
Columbia 11567-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.00 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.59 MB)

This is one of the reclaimed records that I talk about in this post; I bought it new from Clark Music in Decatur, Ga., in 1974, when I was 11, and I have been, so far, the only owner of this copy.


  1. Hi Bryan - It's been claimed that the Marche Slave was actually conducted by CO associate conductor Rudolph Ringwall, not Rodzinski. This theory is propounded by Donald Rosenberg in his Cleveland Orchestra book. Joe Serraglio brought it to my attention some years ago when I posted the 1812 that Ringwall also supposedly conducted. Rosenberg gives this some credence, but who knows at this late date.

    1. Thanks, Buster, that's very interesting. I'd never even heard of Rudolph Ringwall.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Ringwall did an interview with WCLV in 1971 in which he recalled this incident in great detail. I found him believable and so did one of the interviewers, Jack Saul, a notable collector who helped put together the TCO 75th Anniversary Commemorative set.Saul remarked that Ringwall's? recording of the Marche Slave was the finest he had ever heard, though Rosenberg did not think much of the 1812 Ov. There was another interviewer on this show-- maybe Robt. Conrad.

    4. More on Rodzinski and Ringwall from Donald Rosenberg's history of the Cleveland Orchestra:

      Rodzinski's inaugural year was a happy one, and not only for the new maestro: At the end of the season, assistant conductor Rudolph Ringwall was rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to associate conductor. Ringwall had teamed with Lillian Baldwin to present stimulating educational concerts to upwards of 30.000 children. He had no idea quite how busy he would be during the Rodzinski era. In coming seasons, he would have to be ready to step in when more Rodzinski quirks surfaced, such as his penchant for not showing up on time for morning rehearsals (he had trouble getting out of bed and finishing his ablutions) or feigning illness when he didn't feel like conducting at Severance or on tour. Manager Carl Vosburgh would tell Ringwall to leave Severance Hall "just before intermission and go walk somewhere, because if Rodzinski saw me I might·have to conduct the rest of' the concert," Ringwall recalled years later. "Once I had to conduct 'Petrouchka' and I hadn't even seen the score until 7 o'clock that night."

  2. Bryan: Thanks as always for your great work. Are you aware, though, of how annoying File Factory is for non-members? It bombs me with malware, imposes a 30-second wait, and then uploads at about a bite per second.