Well, dear readers, I am sitting here like so much fish, in musical heaven, as I have been for several hours today. Why am I in musical heaven you might ask, and I might tell you because, well, I can. I am in musical heaven because I have finally procured the big box o’ CDs entitled George Szell – The Complete Columbia Album Collection. When this came out two years ago, I had it in my Amazon shopping cart for almost a year, hoping the price might drop – it did, but I missed it somehow, and it kept hovering where it was when I put it in my cart. Now, what you must understand is that the cost was under $200, around $175, and there are 106 CDs in the set. And then like an idiot, I removed it from my cart. Earlier this year, I decided I needed it, as I love these Columbia boxes with the original jacket and back jacket art, beautiful book, and, of course, the music. So, I looked for it and to my amazement the cheapest price I could find was $800. I couldn’t believe it and that was simply not something I could afford, especially in this crazy year. I’ve been trying to find a reasonable copy ever since and not only have I not, the price has been climbing – there are two copies on Amazon right now – both well over $1,000. I don’t think they’re going to sell, or in this case, Szell, but I’m just flabbergasted by such things. Then again, the big Andre Previn I got only in early in 2019 is already going for over $1,000. These box sets just suddenly disappear and then reappear for big bucks. The Fritz Reiner box is another example of that craziness. Anyway, a copy showed up at a much more reasonable price and I contacted the nice fellow who had it, and as it turned out he was a film music fan, and so we bartered and worked out a deal where he would get a lot of our releases plus a couple of out of print rare titles I had duplicates of from other labels. He came out very well and was very happy and I got my Szell box, which arrived yesterday and which I lugged home immediately and began loading into iTunes. This sucker weighs about 36 pounds but boy is it a beauty, much like the Munch box and the Bruno Walter box – the Munch goes for huge money now, but the Walter is still available at a great price – under $150 at Amazon. Now, to say I’m zealous for Szell would be an understatement. In fact, I am overzealous for Szell, who has always been a favorite conductor. I had probably ten CDs already from this set, so I can get rid of those now. Szell was, for me, one of the greatest conductors who ever lived. It was odd to anyone who bought classical music that a world class conductor conducting a great band like the Cleveland Symphony would not be on Columbia proper, but relegated to their other label, Epic Records. Yes, there are a few Columbia albums for Szell, but the majority of the set are his Epic albums. Of course, the first twenty discs are mono, and I must tell you, the sound is superb.
And the performances – well, sheer bliss. The mono New World Symphony by Dvorak is one of the best performances of that warhorse I’ve ever heard – he brings out things that I’ve never heard before. Just brilliant. I’m on disc nine (this will take two weeks to go through, maybe more) and some of the MANY highlights of these mono performances are a great Brahms piano concerto, and a great Liszt piano concerto and I don’t even like Liszt. But Szell is so great I can even deal with composers I don’t care for because his approach is always so fresh. So, I ended up enjoying some Mozart and Haydn – as you know, I’m usually hidin’ from Haydn, but Szell’s Haydn is great. There’s Szell’s own orchestration of Smetana’s String Quartet 1, an excellent Mendelssohn fourth, and on and on. Like most of these Sony/BMG sets, the playing times replicate the original LP for the most part, so many of these are under forty minutes, which I actually like. If this was a Warner Classics set, they would just jam-pack the CDs and that gets very confusing when you’re trying to figure out what was actually on what LP. I prefer the short running times. It’s just like childhood days, when you’d listen to an LP and be done in thirty or forty minutes. I’m anxious to hear the new masterings of the stereo stuff – well, I’ve heard some because I already had some – the later Brahms four symphonies (he recorded a couple several times), so I already know that sounds amazing and in fact I have a hybrid SACD set. Anyway, I’m just loving everything I hear. I also nuked a bunch more stuff out of iTunes, stuff I never play – I have the CDs if I want to hear any of it. But I want to leave all these Szells in there for a while, and if I didn’t nuke it would eat up too much computer space.
Yesterday was a fine day, but I only got about five hours of sleep. I fell asleep right away but got up before the alarm went off. I did some futzing and finessing until she of the Evil Eye arrived, after which I trucked on over to Jerry’s Deli and had my usual matzoh brei and fruit. I was able to kill some nice time there, too, and I had a fun telephonic conversation with Patrick Cassidy, who’s going to do the November Kritzerland, as I had to replace a performer. I stopped at Gelson’s and got a Caesar salad with chicken for my main meal, and then came home and thankfully she of the Evil Eye was just leaving as I was arriving.
I went to work on project one – I’m in a tricky little section so I went slowly and didn’t really get that much done, but I think what did get done is pretty good. Then I got notified via e-mail that the big package had arrived at the mail place, so I went right over and got it and came right home and started loading CDs into iTunes. And then it was time for our first two Zoom rehearsals. First up was Adrienne Stiefel and we ran her three numbers, none of which have been done at Kritzerland before. They’re really good songs for her, too. Then I had a break of ninety minutes until the next person, so I began listening to the set and kept loading in CDs (I think I’ve loaded in about thirty-two so far). Whilst doing that, I was also doing a little more work on project one but I didn’t want to overdo it – I’ve been on it relentlessly all week, so it was good to not do that much yesterday, although I’ll probably do a little more after I post these here notes.
Then it was Robert Yacko’s rehearsal and we ran his three numbers, two of which he’s done at Kritzerland and one that he hasn’t. That all went very well. After that, I had my chicken Caesar, which was actually great. And I continued listening for a bit, then finally sat on my couch like so much fish.
Last night, I watched the first forty minutes of Alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing comedy, The Man in the White Suit, starring Alec Guiness. I’ve tried to watch this motion picture many times – on laserdisc, on DVD, and now on Blu and Ray, but I’ve never made it all the way through, which I’m determined to do. I’ve never found it remotely funny, but I’m kind of enjoying it this time around and I’m interested to see where it goes. The UK disc’s transfer is pretty okay.
After that, it was back to loading CDs and listening to the ones I’d already loaded as I did. And then it was time to write these here notes.
Today, I’ll be up when I’m up, then we have a Zoom rehearsal from two-thirty to three-thirty with Daniel Bellusci and Sami Staitman, so that will be fun. I’m not sure what the meal will be although I am having a craving for the CPK roasted garlic chicken pizza, but I may want something a little more calorie-friendly although, that said, that IS calorie-friendly at under 800 calories. Of course, I’ll work on project one, and then I’ll watch, listen, and relax.
This coming week is all project one and all gearing up for the Kritzerland show. I think for a lot of folks this week will be stressful, due to the impending election, but I would recommend keeping positive and with spirits high in the face of what is almost sure to be multiple distractions every day. So, a busy week for the likes of me but it’s fun busy. Oh, and I got a nice little residual from the Writer’s Guild for The Faculty – I can probably pay for eight meals with it.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, be up when I’m up, have two Zoom rehearsals, eat, work on project one, then watch, listen, and relax. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s free-for-all day, the day in which you dear readers get to make with the topics and we all get to post about them. So, let’s have loads of lovely topics, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, happy to be in musical heaven and happy to be zealous over Szell.