Monday, April 22, 2013

George Szell – The Cleveland Orchestra – William Walton's Partita and Mahler's Tenth Symphony

   When in 1946 George Szell took the post of musical director of the Cleveland Orchestra, the artistic possibilities of famous band were far from ideal. For the orchestra still remembering good times of Artur Rodzinski and Erich Leinsdorf but weakened by the war limitations, critics and listeners had demanded decisive measures. Szell had to build the new orchestra, and he did it in ten years. Many musicians lost their jobs, while more others were hired. In effect he expanded and renewing orchestra in completely new manner. New Cleveland Orchestra was build gradually to have American type of powerful sound and European sensitivity of nuances and interpretative issues.
   In effect during the season of 1957/58 The Cleveland Orchestra was at the peak of its professional power. After the decade of building the team, exchanging musicians and expanding the group, there was virtually no symphonic work that could be too hard to play for this band. With more than a hundred handpicked musicians Szell was able to perform every symphonic composition with equal easiness. One of records giving a chance to observe the technical accuracy and artistic flexibility of the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor George Szell is the one presenting 20th century orchestral pieces by William Walton and Gustav Mahler, released in 1959 by EPIC (LC 3568).

George Szell – Walton – Partita, Mahler – Symphony No. 10 (1959)

   William Walton’s Partita is the result of polystylistic synthesis. It takes over some impressionistic ideas of orchestration colors and some technical solutions and neoclassic formal ideas of Prokofiev or Stravinsky. Neoclassicism is predominantly shown in construction of the work, which is planned as a three-part late 18. century sonatine form. Composed in London, November 28th, 1957, and dedicated for the Cleveland Orchestra it was premiered by the recipients in Cleveland in January 30th, 1958. Listening to this three part work makes it easy to understand why Partita was dedicated to the Cleveland Orchestra. The score of this composition demands absolute discipline in every parameter of the orchestral sound and for some bands it could be just difficult to perform.
   Walton’s Partita is orchestrated for different sets of orchestral instruments and in some fragments could be considered as a concert for virtuoso orchestra. First part Toccata (Brioso) shows some mobility and rhythmic agility giving surprising syncopated effects with constant movement of violins. In second movement Pastorale Siciliana (Andante comodo) melodic patterns are introduced by solo viola, than oboe, and raised by various wind instruments in reprise form. In Giga burlesca (Allegro gioviale) fast and highly energic melody with repetitions in small rhythmic values like in fast recitative gives orchestra one more chance for virtuoso passages.

Szell & Cleveland Orch. – William Walton – Partita (1958)

   The Tenth Symphony by Gustav Mahler was unfinished. The fragments, composed in 1910, remained unknown to 1924, when facsimile was published. Only two movements were progressed far enough to reconstruct a reliable score – first and third. This work was undertaken by Ernst Křenek and the same year premiered in Vienna. After war it was premiered in Erie Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Fritz Mahler, who was composer’s cousin, and published in New York. Recorded by George Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra it became a rarity in history of recorded music. According to Lewis M. Smoley (Gustav Mahler’s Symphonies: Critical Commentary on Recordings Since 1986. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996, p. 260) this is the only recording conjoining these two movements. He also qualified this performance of Symphony No. 10 as “one of the best versions ever recorded”. Undoubtedly the metaphysical aura of the Andante – Adagio movement is quite touchable and Intermezzo (Allegro moderato – Allegro non troppo), which in original bears the superscription Purgatorio, is as grotesque as consequent and compact. This rendition makes this music so much alive, it meets as a complete piece.

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