UNDER THE LATE George Szell, the Cleveland Orchestra won an international reputation for music entirely in the Central European classical tradition: Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak.
This Sunday in the Kennedy Center, the orchestra's current conductor, Christoph von Dohnanyi, will conduct it in a program of Tchaikovsky, Debussy and Sibelius -- about as far from the Szell specialties as you can get.
The orchestra began to record this expanded repertoire systematically under Lorin Maazel, who was its music director between Szell and Dohnanyi, but Maazel didn't last long in Cleveland -- not compared to Szell's 24 years. Dohnanyi, now settled into this role, seems to be playing both sides of the street: taking Russian, Finnish and French music on tour while he re-records the basic Szell repertoire on compact discs.
On his two most recent CDs, he is doing very well with this repertoire. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is performed with textbook precision: every note in place, tempos and balances carefully chosen and a lively, thoughtful interpretation that is not strained to establish a distinctive personality.
Dvorak's Eighth is even more successful; its vivid orchestral colors and exquisite melodies obviously strike a responsive chord in the heart of the conductor (as they have for the orchestra through several generations). It is a splendid, spontaneous, heartwarming record.
CHRISTOPH VON DOHNANYI & THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA -- In Concert: Sunday at 7 p.m., Kennedy Center Concert Hall: Debussy, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky. On compact discs: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (with Carol Vaness, Janice Taylor, Siegfried Jerusalem, Robert Lloyd and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus) (Telarc CD.80120). Dvorak: Symphony No. 8; Scherzo capriccioso (London CD, 414 422-2).