Monday, August 19, 2013

Columbia SAX 2539 From Bohemia With Love (from Szell)

SAX 2539

Bohemian Carnival

George Szell, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Pressing: ED1 (semi-circle or magic notes first)

Condition: EX

BC 1248-A1
BC 1248-B1-E

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $48-214, mean $141 on popsike

Comments:  This may just be my favorite compilation of Bohemian orchestral music on a single disc.  The repertoire is a nice and varied assortment of works by two dominant Czech composers:  Smetana's Moldau (or Vltava) and three dances from The Bartered Bride as well as Dvorak's Carnaval Overture and four Slavonic Dances (#1, 3, 10, 15).  All of these are performed superbly by the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of George Szell.

Side 1 opens with the enchanting flute solo/duet which sets the stage for the sweeping theme of The Moldau, gorgeously played by the strings.  Orchestral textures are very clear throughout this piece, enabling the listener to appreciate the many wind and brass parts which enrich the string melodies.  The three dances from The Bartered Bride are light and joyous and are all equally enjoyable.  Side 2 gets off to a vibrant start with Dvorak's Carnaval Overture.  Szell's timing for this work (9:25) is a little longer than Reiner's (8:54), Silvestri's (9:17), and Bernstein's (8:59).  Szell's tempo for the first of the Slavonic Dances -- my favorite -- feels, in my opinion, perfect.  Other conductors often take this a little too fast (e.g. Jean Martinon with the LSO) or a little too slow (Bernstein and the NYP); not so here. 

I have not heard the U.S. Epic release of this album (though I probably should for direct comparison), but I thought that the sound quality on this record was very good but not quite up to EMI/Columbia's highest standards.  Not their fault exactly, considering that they licensed the recording from the U.S.  I listened to the record on both my loudspeakers and on my headphones.  Amplification was quite different for the two different systems, which could explain the difference in quality.  The record sounded more natural and transparent on my Von Schweikert VR-2's (powered by the Musical Fidelity M6i), more gritty and constricted on my Beyerdynamic T1's (powered by the PSAudio GCHA, which is likely to not be the best pair for the T1's).  In general, while dynamic range was pretty decent, I felt that clarity and an overall sense of hall presence could have been better.  Treble sounded a little bit bright to my ears. 

Importantly, though, the selling point of this album is its music.  The performances are simply wonderful.  Szell was well regarded as a conductor of Czech music, and this album is exemplary.  I only wish it had been recorded by English engineers for EMI!  For the budget conscious, since this record was licensed from Epic (and the matrix numbers on this pressing are Epic's), it might be worthwhile to try to find the U.S. Epic release for much cheaper before pulling the trigger on the SAX.  Most of this recording has also been released on CD.


  1. In the interest of science perhaps this VG++ copy would be worth acquiring. Previously on auction for $3, so an offer of $3 should suffice:

    I was looking at these and it seemed that mainly the chamber stuff had the epic matrices. Most of the orchestral stuff was YAX.

    I show $180 recent for a top copy of this.

    1. I think that's a great deal. I've purchased LPs from Scott Campbell, all of which were VG++, and they came back sounding fantastic. That should be a conservative grade. If you get this, please let me know what you think about it.

    2. Not for me, for you. I've not been bowled over by the sound of epic and I still have my second label aversion. Perhaps you would like to make another comparison. I could also mail up some Epics I've got that might match with your SAX. I'll have to dig some. Contact me with a list of what you've got on hand and I'll go through my collection. I don't generally have Epic sorted by label.

    3. Okay, I offered $4, all for the purpose of science! Don't want to pay more than that for this reissue.

    4. Wow, that was fast. He accepted. Looks like I get to do the experiment!

    5. Good. I am looking for various pressngs on a few recordings. I'll have two of ASD 541 Sibelius works soon.

      Don't forget that list. I've got Brahms 1 which I think you reviewed. We get enough of these together and we can settle the matter.

    6. Here is a pile of Epic proportions (items with * aqlam has SAX):
      *SAX2459 Walton: Symphony 2/Partita for Orch Clvd Szell (gold of Partita, BC 1024)
      *SAX2475 Schumann: Symphonies 1/4 Clvlnd Szell (1 gold, 1 blue epic, BC 1039 Scuhmann 1)
      SAX2488 Mahler: Symphony 10/Strauss: Death Clvlnd Szell (gold BC 1024, Death from BC 1011)
      *SAX2493 Beethoven: Symphony 8/Schubert: Symphony 8 Clvlnd Szell (2 Schubert 8, Columbia)
      SAX2495 Strauss,R: Don Quixote/Don Juan Clvlnd Szell Fournier (Odyssey)
      *SAX2496 Schumann: Symphony 2 Clvlnd Szell (1 gold, 1 blue epic)
      *SAX2506 Schumann: Symphony 3 Clvlnd Szell (1 gold, 1 blue epic)
      *SAX2517 Schubert: Symphony 9 Clvlnd Szell (2 Odyssey)
      *SAX2524 Mendelssohn: Symphony 4/Hebrides Ov/etc Clvlnd Szell (2 Columbia,no Hebrides)
      *SAX2532 Debussy: La Mar/Ravel: Daphnis St 2/Pavane Clvlnd Szell (2 blue Epic)
      SAX2534 Brahms: Piano Concerto 2 Civlnd Szell Fleisher (1 blue Epic, 2 Odyysey)
      SAX2536 Strauss,R: Horn Conc 1/Mozart: Horn Conc Clvlnd Szell Bloom (1 gold Epic)
      *SAX2545 Strauss,R: Sinfonia Domestica Clvlnd Szell (1 Columiba, 1 Oddysey, Mr. Lee calls this Epic but its Columbia)
      SAX2552 Mozart: Symphony 41/Beethoven: Sym 5 Clvlnd Szell (Columbia compilation, Beeth 5)
      SAX2572 Brahms: Symphony 3/Havdn Variations Clvlnd Szell (various Columbia)
      SAX2575 Barber: Piano Conc/Schuman: Song of Orpheus Clvlnd Szell Leonard Rose (Columbia)
      *SAX5279 Brahms: Symphony 1 Clvlnd Szell (3 gold, columbia box)
      SAX5280 Mozart: Symphony 28/Figaro Ov Clvlnd Szell (1 Columbia, 28 only)
      SAX5283 Mahler: Symphony 4 Clvlnd Szell (2 Columbia)
      *SAX5284 Brahms: Symphony 2 Clvlnd Szell (Columbia box)
      *SAX5292 Brahms: Symphony 4/Academic Fest 0v Clvlnd Szell (Columbia box)

      I see six which would be interesting as they are original Epic or Columbia pressings.

      Dug out some Angels which will help me preview some of the other releases.

    7. Thanks for posting the Epic analogies to the SAX records. I'm pretty sure there are even more. All of the Juilliard String Quartet, Kroll String Quartet, and Charles Rosen albums were all licensed from Epic.

    8. That is merely what I have in my own collection. There are a few more. I did not look actively for the chamber music as I doubt I have any, though I might have snagged Mr. Rosen if I saw him (Julliard too). I can send some onto you in the future if you wish to make further comparisons. We can communicate via email on the particulars.

  2. Agree with you on two points: American Epics don't usually sound great, and Szell is unrivaled in this repertoire. I love Dvorak enough to own many performances of his music, and I always go back to my original Epic LPs of the seventh and eighth symphonies because they're just the best. They're the most beautiful in the lyrical passages, the most exciting in the rhythmically driving parts (like the almost proto-rock and roll third movement of Symphony #7), and they just have a perfect drive and structure. Original gold label: BC 1111 (symphony #2, now called #7), and BC 1015 (symphony #4, which we'd call #8... As most reading this probably know, the scholars renumbered them a while back). I'd call the sound crude but effective depending on the tenderness of your sonic sensitivities... There's certainly no lovely string tone here, the violins are quite grainy, but there's enough clarity and punch to let Szell and this great orchestra move me.

    1. I'd have to agree with you on this, Jolly Oink. Some of these records are worth owning for the performances as opposed to the sonic qualities. It's a shame that Szell was recorded by CBS and not RCA or Decca or EMI (though he had at least one on EMI (Oistrakh Brahms VC and Oistrakh/Rostropovich Brahms Double). He had a couple of Philips. His performances were excellent but didn't get the recording quality of the other labels. My colleagues Miles and I have debated this for some time as to why his Columbia SAX recordings have garnered so much attention. I personally have not recognized significant differences between these pressings and the Epics, except that maybe they are slightly quieter with better quality vinyl. Dynamic range and so forth seems to be nearly identical. The UK covers, though, with the laminated fronts, were, in my opinion, superior. Whether that justifies a price tag that is 10 to 100 times the cost of the US pressing is up to the collector. Szell's mastery of the Czech/Hungarian repertoire, though, was really something.