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Reviews: Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 39, 40 etc. - Szell

Reviews: 4

Review by Dan Popp January 4, 2004 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Analog is dead. This disc would make a good eulogy. Here in one convenient package is everything we forgot we hated about magnetic tape. Oh, the hiss is not bad - the ear soon gets used to it and filters out most of it. But the limited dynamic range is objectionable from the very first phrase. And the non-linearities of this particular source tape are quite noticeable: the upper strings sound harsh, the lower strings sound like an undefined "boom," the brass sounds almost cartoonish in its caricature. The only section that sounds sweet and beautiful is the woodwinds. Overall it reminds you constantly that you are not there - you are listening to a recording.

The performance seems a bit stiff to my untrained ears. Szell seems to have had the reputation of bringing the Cleveland Orchestra to heights of technical precision - and that is evident. But the playfulness that I normally associate with Mozart is very rare here - perhaps regimented out. A Mozart disc for Beethoven lovers! - ha.

The bright spot on the SACD is in the 2nd movement of the last piece, "Exsultate Jubilate" which overall sounds like a Handel composition. The soprano's heavy vibrato is a turn-off to me, but the 2nd movement is sublime. It has all the soaring lyric beauty of Mozart's best arias. Perhaps that alone will be worth the price of the disc to some.

It's a non-hybrid disc, stereo only, so unless you're collecting Szell performances or you have a nostalgic reason to get this, my recommendation would be to pass, and buy a more modern recording. Alas, poor analog. RIP.

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Review by Mahugh May 14, 2004 (2 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This was my first SACD purchase and I admit I was let down. I have another recording of Mozart's 40th on CD that I bought for $5 years ago and it sounds as good, if not better than this SACD. There is hiss in this recording. Why? I don't know, but it was rather disappointing after you spend $15. The actual performance is alright, but the technical quality of the recording leaves something to be desired.

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Review by c.p. September 30, 2005 (4 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I was new to SACD and DVD-audio when I purchased this disc. I wasn't yet aware of the difference between PCM, analogue and DSD recordings, nor that all three could be turned into SACD's, even multichannel SACD's given enough studio magic. The hiss in this recording steams from the fact that the source material was recording in the ancient medium of analogue tape, which is hardly very far above carving it into a stone tablet. So, given that's what they've got to work with, the fact that they can make it into high resolution is beside the point. It's a little like scanning in a blurry picture into a computer and upping the dpi to 1000 in photoshop. You've now got a very high resolution blurry picture. So what. PC recordings have a similar problem. In classical music, the integrity of "real space" is essential and must not be compromised. Yet, as I understand it, any attempt to turn an original stereo recording at a certain resolution into a high resolution, multi-channel recording necessarily means that artificial means must be employed somewhere along the line to achieve that. Most people who shelled out a sizable chunk of money for a SACD or DVD-Audio player, I think, were expecting to get a sound closer to the original performance. But one has to be careful that that's what you're getting. On this recording of the Mozart 39th and 40th Symphonies, the hiss is extremely distracting, the sound is flat, and given that this isn't some landmark recording, I can't understand why they bothered "upgrading" it to SACD, and 2-channel SACD at that.

The challenge with buying SACD or DVD audio discs right now is that information about individual discs is so elusive. That's one of the reasons this site is so valuable. Most on-line retailers offer few if any of the basic things one needs to know in order to make an informed purchase. Hopefully this problem will correct itself as SACD's become more popular. In the meantime, to all beginners like me: learn about the differences between PCM, analogue, and DSD recorded SACD's and look for comprehensive descriptions of discs before you shell out twice the dough for a major disappointment. This site is a great place to learn.

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Review by willyevans December 13, 2006 (2 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Truly legendary performances! Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra are regarded by many classical enthusiasts as being at the top of the heap. This SACD shows you why. The sound quality is nothing to write home about though. For some reason Szell recordings in the 50s and 60s have lots of hiss.


BTW-To my friends who think analog sucks I would argue the finest sounding classical and jazz recordings were made with a few microphones and magnetic tape. Listen to Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section or Way Out West by Sonny Rollins on SACD and your jaw will drop. Both were recorded 50 years ago and sound so much better than pure digital jazz recordings. All digital sounds dry and sterile with classical or jazz. There's no depth or air. It sounds artificial.

Instruments that aren't plugged into anything sound alot better recorded in analog if done correctly.

As to the performance: would any of the other reviewers care to explain why these performances (excluding sound quality) warrant such a low rating?

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