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Thread: George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Default George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra

    The late maestro Szell and his Clevelanders together formed one of the most iconic conductor/orchestra pairing in history. The notorious hardass & his ultra-precise band left behind a huge recorded legacy, and it seems folks either love the detail and incisiveness of the performances, or hate them for supposed unflexibility.

    As for me, I'm still making up my mind, but I do find Szell & the Clevelanders to be absolutely phenomenal in certain repertoire: Mozart, for instance; there are very few recordings I prefer to Szell's of the last two symphonies. I have had a disc called Wagner Without Words by Szell/Cleveland since childhood, with great orchestral Wagner (though I have a feeling more serious Wagnerites might hate it—is there any Wagnerian among us who wants to confirm or deny that for me?)—and I am also quite fond of his Mahler 4th with Judith Raskin.

    What are some essential Szell/Cleveland recordings in your eyes? Where do they shine, where do they fall flat?

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    Haydn, Symphony No 93, for the razzberry heard 'round the world.
    Last edited by Manxfeeder; Apr-22-2020 at 23:03.

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    His Beethoven symphonies are still among the best, especially the Eroica.

    Also his Brahms symphonies, and the concertos with Leon Fleisher, as well as Schumann and Dvorak.

    In the central Germanic repertoire, he was pretty much unsurpassed I think. In fact I find it hard to think of any repertoire where they "fall flat"!
    Last edited by Ulfilas; Apr-22-2020 at 22:37.

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    Senior Member Ekim the Insubordinate's Avatar
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    Highlights:
    The Beethoven Symphony Cycle - particularly the 3rd
    The Brahms Double Conerto
    The Brahms Violin Concerto with Oistrakh
    Brahms Symphony No. 4
    Beethoven and Brahms Piano Concertos with Fleisher
    Schubert's 8th and 9th Symphonies
    Schumann Symphonies
    I also have that Wagner Without Words - really enjoy it!

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    Senior Member DaddyGeorge's Avatar
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    I'm not entirely a fan of Szell, but I agree with what I read somewhere, that his recording of Schubert's 9th Symphony is one of the best recordings of this work ever made.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Manxfeeder View Post
    Haydn, Symphony No 93, for the razzberry heard 'round the world.
    This. A stroke of pure genius. Sends me into fits of guffawing every time. The old autocrat had a sense of humor after all.

    There's no denying from me the near-perfection of the Szell/Cleveland machine - and it really was a well-oiled machine. The clarity and purity of tone, precision of rhythm, transparency of texture, fullness of dynamic range...all extremely impressive, the pinnacle of orchestral playing. The Cleveland ensemble is one of my favorite orchestral sounds in the world, especially due to the gorgeous, sparkling woodwinds. But yet, like Karajan and Reiner who had very similar models of success with their orchestras, I always feel like something is missing - humanity. Perfection for the sake of perfection is boring, and I never turn to Szell for the most profound interpretations. There is always a sort of tightly-controlled stiffness and lack of freedom. That being said, he is a consistent go-to for me when I just want to hear something good done very well indeed. Some particular favorites of mine:

    Schubert 9. This is probably my favorite Szell recording. It's not a symphony I'm always in the mood for, and when I am it needs to be a darned good performance to keep my interest. This is a darned good performance, you're just swept away by the brilliance and effervescence of the playing.

    Mozart and Haydn. Szell converted me to Mozart's symphonies after previously hearing nothing but anemic HIP versions. The thrust, drama, and weight he puts into every phrase is just amazing; though overall Bruno Walter is my king of Mozart conductors, Szell is not far behind. And his Haydn recordings are tied with Jochum/LSO and Davis/RCO for my favorites.

    Dvorak 9. A true classic for this symphony even if others get deeper into the rhapsodic soul of Dvorak.

    For me his most overrated include the Mahler 4; impeccable as it is it just lacks a little bit of that expressive freedom that Mahler demands, even if the Adagio is amazingly prayerful and uplifting. I actually think it's quite a lovely recording, but so often overshadows so many of the other fantastic M4s out there. Same with his Sibelius 2 - very nice but too reined-in. His Beethoven doesn't really connect with me either, though I haven't spent a lot of time with it. I guess the more I think of it the more I realize I really like lots of his recordings. The guy and his band sure were consistent, and though he is never all that challenging or revelatory for me I am very happy with a great deal of what he did.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ekim the Insubordinate View Post
    Highlights:

    I also have that Wagner Without Words - really enjoy it!
    Must be standard issue for Ohioan music lovers. I got mine from my uncle who studied music at Bowling Green State; my whole family is from Toledo.

    @ACB, I would wholeheartedly disagree that there's any humanity missing from Szell's and ESPECIALLY Reiner's music making (I'll give you Karajan) but I guess I can see where you're coming from. But I would agree that Szell is second only to Walter on the Mozart pantheon. His Haydn I'm less fond of, though it is nice. I prefer Colin Davis/RCO for the London symphonies, and I actually like the HIP guys in Haydn (unlike Mozart), Brüggen and Kuijken (not big on Pinnock's Haydn).

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    Posters seem to be zooming into the best-known Szell/Cleveland efforts...
    a couple of favorites -

    Walton - Sym #2....really great, Szell lets the orchestra rip....some spectacular section work esp in the finale - check out the variations for the bassoons, and then the trombones....

    Beethoven - Leonore Ov #3 - great performance of a major orchestral tour de force....Szell gets the big eruption after the Allegro - a veritable damn burst of sound and energy which persists all the way to the first trumpet call...the very demanding String section work is played with stunning precision.

    The story on the big bassoon f*rt in Haydn #93/II - [from a student of one of the oboists, quotes are not exact] - at the first rehearsal - orchestra came to that spot - the fine principal bassoonist - George Goslee- played the low C loud, as marked...
    Szell stops - <<No, no, no...much more, much more>>...
    Goslee plays it louder,
    Sz: <<No, no, needs more>> -
    he tries a different reed, still no-go - he's blasting it out at pretty much the max, still no good...
    G:<<OK, let me work on something for tomorrow>>

    Goslee goes home, puts together a raw blank, right off the profiler/shaper - no adjustments, no fine tuning, just unrefined, raw, unfinished cane...
    next day - comes to the spot - the raucous, loud, flatulent blast erupts from his bassoon -
    Sz: <<Yes, that's it!! Perfect!!>>
    recording history is made!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaddyGeorge View Post
    I'm not entirely a fan of Szell, but I agree with what I read somewhere, that his recording of Schubert's 9th Symphony is one of the best recordings of this work ever made.
    I was not a fan of the Schubert 9th (still not) but Szell version is very listenable. Probably my favorite.

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    Senior Member jegreenwood's Avatar
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    Let me put it this way - I waited for years for a Sony megabox. Pre-ordered it the day it was first listed.

    I also own Japanese SACDs of his Beethoven cycle as well as early SACDs of his Schumann, Mendelssohn, Strauss and Dvorak, and Japanese releases of his Mozart and Brahms. (These may be in the big box too.)

    Szell was not always my imprint for Germanic repertoire (although he was for Mozart and Schumann) but his recordings of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms have been a mainstay in my collection since my earliest days of classical listening (on crummy Columbia LPs).

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    And let us not forget Strauss Four Last songs with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. Let's be blunt here: George Szell picked his stuff he wanted to record and was very intelligent in music (was stated to be child prodigy). Like Reiner he had a way of getting the best out of the orchestra-period. I cannot recall anything he did less than worthy to listen to or collect (of course sound is another issue). Comments I hear about his style (mostly just being passed around like a ball) are subjective (that is, you, and me) and not the truth in and of itself. I cannot think of any criticism toward George Szell of him being sloppy, or lacking something but mostly more about approaches to music. Nuff said for me.

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    Well, thanks to my diminished willpower due to my cabin fever, and the high praise for Szell in here, I just made several impulse bus on iTunes.
    The Sony Jacket edition of Szell conducting Mozart
    The Haydn London Symphonies
    Tchaikovsky 5th symphony
    The Strauss recording (Great Performances)
    Grieg and Schumann piano concertos with Fleisher

    Gotta have something new to listen to in case this shutdown lasts much longer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ekim the Insubordinate View Post
    Well, thanks to my diminished willpower due to my cabin fever, and the high praise for Szell in here, I just made several impulse bus on iTunes.
    The Sony Jacket edition of Szell conducting Mozart
    The Haydn London Symphonies
    Tchaikovsky 5th symphony
    The Strauss recording (Great Performances)
    Grieg and Schumann piano concertos with Fleisher

    Gotta have something new to listen to in case this shutdown lasts much longer.
    I keep bringing this up : If you want to hear it for free, try freegal through your local library if they subscribe to it. All the Szell music you brought up is available for free. I use it when I I want to check out something I do not own on CD.

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    Senior Member Ekim the Insubordinate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigbang View Post
    I keep bringing this up : If you want to hear it for free, try freegal through your local library if they subscribe to it. All the Szell music you brought up is available for free. I use it when I I want to check out something I do not own on CD.
    I don't mind buying music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ekim the Insubordinate View Post
    Highlights:
    The Beethoven Symphony Cycle - particularly the 3rd
    The Brahms Double Conerto
    The Brahms Violin Concerto with Oistrakh
    Brahms Symphony No. 4
    Beethoven and Brahms Piano Concertos with Fleisher
    Schubert's 8th and 9th Symphonies
    Schumann Symphonies
    I also have that Wagner Without Words - really enjoy it!
    You took the words out of my mouth......

    Beethoven - taut and dynamic (be it symphonies or the concertos with Fleisher (amongst my favorites))
    Brahms - tragic/romantic (same as above)
    Schubert classic with a zip

    and would add Haydn to this list ... The early London Symphonies - old way with a hint of HIP
    Last edited by The3Bs; Apr-23-2020 at 10:02.

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