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Thread: Is George Szell one of your favorite conductors?

  1. #31
    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    I revere Szell for his ability to bring clarity to a complex score. His underlying philosophy, that the emotional depth of a work is best conveyed by presenting it clearly (rather than hamming it up) resonates with me.

    I recently acquired the complete Szell/Columbia box and am trying to make my way through it as fast as my life circumstances permit.
    There are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. - Duke Ellington.

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  3. #32
    Senior Member jegreenwood's Avatar
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    His recordings served as my imprint versions of more Austrian/Germanic works from Mozart to Brahms than anyone else. His Mozart and Haydn remain top choices for non HIP recordings and his Schubert 8th and 9th have been matched but not surpassed.

    And I do have the big box. Ordered it before it was released.

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  5. #33
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    I enjoy a handful of Szell's recordings. The very smooth and warm recording of Mahler's Symphony #4 that he made with the Cleveland Orchestra and Judith Raskin ruined every other recording of Mahler 4 for me becuase it is that good. The Mozart recordings of the Clarinet Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante made with in-house musicians is equally flawless. The Prokofiev Piano Concertos #1 & 3that were made with Gary Graffman are also very good. That said, Szells recordings of Beethoven and Brahms are very muscular but seem to lack warmth and spontaneity to my ears. I read somewhere that those who heard Szell live were deeply impressed and that may be part of the problem, in that we don't always know how well a conductor's musical vision can be captured in the studio compared to the concert hall.

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  7. #34
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    His underlying philosophy, that the emotional depth of a work is best conveyed by presenting it clearly (rather than hamming it up).
    Being sensitive to the nuances and emotional underpinnings of a score is not “hamming it up.” To the contrary, Furtwängler described his style as simple honesty, following the natural flow of the music like a brook.

    To me, Szell’s clarity is distracting and draws attention to itself. It sounds unnatural, like saying “I love you” to someone in a detached monotone. Understanding and conveying the character and tone of a work is just as essential to the job of a conductor as getting the rhythms and dynamics correct.

    Imagine someone speaking to you naturally, simply conveying what they have to say. Now imagine the same person over-enunciating every word. You would be distracted, and the emphasis on clarity would distract from the actual content, the message. But that’s the difference in philosophy. A conductor like Furtwängler puts himself in the shoes of the composer speaking to the audience. A conductor like Szell reads off in strict dictation like a court reporter. This only approximates the content.

    .
    Last edited by Brahmsianhorn; Jul-21-2021 at 18:45.

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  9. #35
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    It depends on the composer. I think Beethoven can absolutely work as a non-interventionist manner (not that I mind more romantic ones), but Brahms symphonies less so.

    If it helps, early in my listening, I really wanted "straight" performances of the work- because I had the idea that "I want to hear what the composer wrote!" and all that. I still do like that approach when approaching new repertoire but I don't care as much about it nowadays.

    I think he's really good in extremely "romantic" work, oddly enough- stuff like Tchaikovsky and Strauss is so heart-on-sleeve that you can't help but get emotion from playing it straight.

  10. #36
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    A conductor like Szell reads off in strict dictation like a court reporter.
    I strongly disagree with this caricature.

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  12. #37
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    For me, Szell could be very great. His symphony recordings for Mozart Haffner, Beethoven 3, Tchaikovsky 4 and 5, Kodaly, Prokofiev, Wagner are among my favourites. His Schubert (much prefer Bohm), Brahms, Handel I can do without.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    Being sensitive to the nuances and emotional underpinnings of a score is not “hamming it up.” To the contrary, Furtwängler described his style as simple honesty, following the natural flow of the music like a brook.

    To me, Szell’s clarity is distracting and draws attention to itself. It sounds unnatural, like saying “I love you” to someone in a detached monotone. Understanding and conveying the character and tone of a work is just as essential to the job of a conductor as getting the rhythms and dynamics correct.

    Imagine someone speaking to you naturally, simply conveying what they have to say. Now imagine the same person over-enunciating every word. You would be distracted, and the emphasis on clarity would distract from the actual content, the message. But that’s the difference in philosophy. A conductor like Furtwängler puts himself in the shoes of the composer speaking to the audience. A conductor like Szell reads off in strict dictation like a court reporter. This only approximates the content.

    .
    That's interesting. To me, Furtwangler sound sometimes artificial, and sometimes plain, but Szell seems to me much more natural. I don't feel he just follows the score literally at all, and knows how to bring things off cohesively, and expressively in a manner that's not cloying like how much of Bernstein comes across to me. I think it all has to do with a certain temperament of the listener, that certain conductors appeal to.
    "But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying..." Peter Sinfield

  13. #38
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    I strongly disagree with this caricature.
    That's the literalist philosophy. Literally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    A conductor like Szell reads off in strict dictation like a court reporter.
    Hmm . . . I'm a court reporter. Maybe that's why I like Szell.
    Last edited by Manxfeeder; Jul-21-2021 at 20:43.

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  16. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    That's the literalist philosophy. Literally.
    I'd prefer to say that strongly adding emotive interpretations to heavily emotional, romantic music like Tchaikovsky runs the risk of gilding the lily.

  17. #41
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    That's the literalist philosophy. Literally.
    This is a straw man that doesn't apply to Szell in any meaningful way.

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  19. #42
    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fbjim View Post
    I'd prefer to say that strongly adding emotive interpretations to heavily emotional, romantic music like Tchaikovsky runs the risk of gilding the lily.
    This goes back to my original point. Interpreting music in a naturally emotive way is no different than speaking in a tone that naturally conveys the emotion of the speech. You are not adding anything. But interpreting the music in a passionless, mechanical way strips the music of its natural essence. In that sense you are subtracting.

    .
    Last edited by Brahmsianhorn; Jul-21-2021 at 21:40.

  20. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    This goes back to my original point. Interpreting music in a naturally emotive way is no different than speaking in a tone that naturally conveys the emotion of the speech. You are not adding anything. But interpreting the music in a passionless, mechanical way strips the music of its natural essence. In that sense you are subtracting.

    .
    Musical instruments already have textures and timbres similar to speech. I actually think it would take more work to play, say, Tchaikovsky 6 in a way that isn't "emotional". Musical instruments playing those tones (subject to usual disclaimers about subjectivity of emotional reaction et al) will "naturally" emote that way without embellishment. (It's why I like, say, Pollini and Serkin in the slow Hammerklavier movement over more emotive pianists - I don't think that movement needs "help" to be profound)

    And I certainly don't think it's wrong to interpret that kind of thing- but I don't think a "non-interventionist" conducting style is necessarily damaging to emotional affect. And I do think there are works of high complexity that absolutely needs interpretation to bring out the emotional affect - Brahms 4, or some Shostakovich, for instance.
    Last edited by fbjim; Jul-21-2021 at 21:51.

  21. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    ....That's interesting. To me, Furtwangler sound sometimes artificial, and sometimes plain, but Szell seems to me much more natural. I don't feel he just follows the score literally at all, and knows how to bring things off cohesively, and expressively in a manner that's not cloying.....
    Yes, The excessive taffy-pulling of tempo by Furtwangler often sounds forced, or contrived to me...not natural...
    To me, it is total falsehood that a literal approach is unexpressive, mechanical or robotic and unexpressive...that's complete baloney...a conductor who sticks close to the score can inspire amazingly passionate and expressive playing from his/her orchestra...
    Precision does NOT automatically equate with expressive restraint....loose, sloppy playing does not automatically equate with great passion or expression.
    Last edited by Heck148; Jul-21-2021 at 22:00.

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  23. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brahmsianhorn View Post
    .....But interpreting the music in a passionless, mechanical way strips the music of its natural essence. In that sense you are subtracting.
    This has no relevance to Szell....

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