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Thread: Is George Szell one of your favorite conductors?

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Cool Is George Szell one of your favorite conductors?

    If yes, why do you like him.
    I find him kind of cold and unyielding.
    Tell me about Szell.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

    "Life's a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all." Ian Anderson lyric

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet

    "Man does not live by bread alone......"

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    The perfectionist in me enjoys his clarity and precision.

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    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    He's not one of my favorites, but I like him a lot for his direct approach with no over-emoting.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    No, and I don't know why since virtually every recording of his that I have is exemplary. Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms - top notch. He even was brilliant with the Russian repertoire: a Tchaikovsky 1st piano concerto with Graffman is, as the reviews said, "Pure Gold". Even the 5th symphony is way above average (never mind that silly added cymbal crash). The Mahler 4th is one of the best. Then there's that incendiary Sibelius 2 on EMI. But there's something that seems calculated in his music making that's hard to pin down. Can something be too perfect?
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    No he is not. But I generally like him when he does 20th century stuff like Bartók or Walton and I wish he had done more of those. I don`t like the rest, especially Brahms and Schumann but he definitely knew his way with music and I respect his idiosyncratic approach.

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    I'll be the outlier and say yes, I do like Szell. I even have the big Szell box. I like precision, so his conducting appeals to me.

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    He’s a technician. His interpretations are reliably paced, but he barely skims the surface of the great symphonies.

    I prefer him in shorter works that stress orchestral color and execution.

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    He was really talented and good at getting his orchestra to do what he wanted. Whether what he wanted was to your taste is up to you. Personal favorites: Mahler 4, Mozart Haffner Symphony, Beethoven concerti with Fleischer, Brahms B-flat with Serkin, Dvorak Slavonic Dances.

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    He's a machine. Yes, but a very good one!

    Seriously, I would answer definitely yes. His recordings of a lot of the core repertoire often represents some of the best recordings of those compositions. His precision does help. He also often adopts fairly fast tempi in an era when most of his contemporaries usually went in the opposite direction. I also don't find his recordings to be lacking emotion or pathos.

    His Beethoven symphony cycle is one of my favorites, possibly my absolute favorite. His late Dvorak symphonies are, appropriately, legendary. His Dvorak Slavonic Dances are a romp. His late Tchaikovsky symphonies (4 & 5) are great, belying his reputation as emotionally cold. His Mahler 4 is legendary and is my favorite recording of that symphony.
    Last edited by haziz; Jul-19-2021 at 02:26.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Some of my favorite Cleveland Orchestra CDs are conducted by Boulez, and Maazel. I like Szell's Schumann No.2. I have some of his Beethoven, Dvorak, and Mozart but I usually listen to other conductors instead.
    In Mahler I usually prefer the Solti approach -caveman having a seisure whips orchestra into a frenzy!! - Radames, TC member

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    I haven't systematically collected his recordings. I value some quite highly, especially the Mozart concerti with Casadesus and Brahms with Fleisher. I have a few more (the Decca masters box and a few singles on Sony). Schumann and Haydn symphonies I'd value as good but not as great as many find them (I know little of his Beethoven besides the 5th and Egmont on Decca both of which are very good).
    So overall I estimate Szell as a very good conductor but not a huge favorite.

  19. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by haziz View Post
    He's a machine. Yes, but a very good one!

    Seriously, I would answer definitely yes. His recordings of a lot of the core repertoire often represents some of the best recordings of those compositions. His precision does help. He also often adopts fairly fast tempi in an era when most of his contemporaries usually went in the opposite direction. I also don't find his recordings to be lacking emotion or pathos.

    His Beethoven symphony cycle is one of my favorites, possibly my absolute favorite. His late Dvorak symphonies are, appropriately, legendary. His Dvorak Slavonic Dances are a romp. His late Tchaikovsky symphonies (4 & 5) are great, belying his reputation as emotionally cold. His Mahler 4 is legendary and is my favorite recording of that symphony.
    I'm not qualified to judge Szell's Mahler 4 as I'm not a Mahler fan, but the fact that so many people cite that recording is testament to Szell's sheer professionalism because, like me, he didn't find Mahler's music congenial. There are other conductors whose best moments get through to me more than Szell's do, but I've come across few whose musicmaking was of such consistently high quality.
    Last edited by Animal the Drummer; Jul-19-2021 at 12:15.

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    I heard many of his recordings though I have nothing of his in my collection.

    I once heard Szell and Karajan described as being leading conductors in the School of Industrial Perfection.

    I thought that silly, a cliche. Szell had many fine, warm recordings with lots of humanity. His later Haydn symphonies are among them. He was also very good at descriptive music such as the Hary Janos and Lt. Kije suites.

    His orchestra played letter and note perfect all the time with perfect intonation, it is true. I don't know why that would be considered a detriment. Listen to his Pictures At An Exhibition someday.

    One thing cannot be denied about Szell: he was consistent. It was probably also true he concentrated on execution and perfection at the expense of what some may say soul.

    Anshel Brusilow, the former concertmaster under Szell, wrote about him in his book. Szell was neither an easy person to work for nor was he generous. But that was not unusual in his day either.
    Last edited by larold; Jul-19-2021 at 12:30.

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    Great conductor, superb musician, who built s great orchestra in Cleveland....i generally enjoy his performances a great deal....a total control freak, he could keep things " buttoned down" at times but he also let the orchestra really cut loose at times to great effect.
    Like many podium autocrats of the time, he could be a pretty miserable person

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    For me the issue is not so much lack of warmth as much as it is lack of depth. I don’t feel like Szell is saying anything beyond a simplistically literal conveyance of the score, which for me is often painfully dull, except in those cases where the music lends itself to mere virtuosity as entertainment value.

    I listened to his Eroica a few days ago. The outer movements were thrilling in their dexterity. Indeed, a machine but a good machine. The Marcia funebre was well-paced and sensitively played by the orchestra, but it barely skimmed the surface. So many greater conductors have left touching accounts. Even Toscanini, who makes me feel like I am listening to La Traviata in this movement, is showing personal connection to the music and saying something.

    Music, as all art, is inherently individual and subjective. I don’t believe in objective regurgitation of the written score.

    .
    Last edited by Brahmsianhorn; Jul-19-2021 at 17:43.

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