WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Piano Concerto No. 3; Egmont Overture
PERFORMER: Emil Gilels (piano) Vienna PO/George Szell
CATALOGUE NO: C 484 981 B ADD
Although Arturo Toscanini and George Szell project parts of Beethoven’s Fifth similarly – both see the first movement as brisk but not precipitous, for example – the differences between their readings are instructive. At this 9 April 1933 concert (not 4 April as Naxos states), Toscanini takes a comparatively regal, measured view of the finale, while Szell in 1969, at his final Salzburg Festival concert, makes it enormously turbulent, with an ample ritardando on the concluding chords – typical of other inflections he introduces sparingly but at key structural moments. Toscanini the martinet puts in a cameo appearance with some whiplash chords and by doggedly maintaining the original tempo of the scherzo in its eerie pizzicato reprise (by contrast, Szell’s hale complacency rankles here), but otherwise this is one of the Italian maestro’s more songful recordings of the Fifth, and there’s a fair sense of space around otherwise primitive sound.
The Szell disc has the more enjoyable coupling: a performance of the C minor Concerto with Emil Gilels as soloist, where Szell is bristlier in the Largo but Gilels more brilliant in the rondo than in their 1967 EMI studio recording. Toscanini’s 1942 traversal of the Triple Concerto, bracing but brittle in the outer movements, pushes his soloists beyond their technical capacity, and the wiry sound plus swishy, uncontinuous surface noise is a trial. David Breckbill