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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.

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.

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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.
 

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^ No disrespect to Callas. I think she's a very unique and great singer, but that is only one way of listening. I think the art of interpretation (and breathing) is quite subjective. I remember when I would listen to Murray Perahia, the phrasing sounded wrong to me, but listening at times later, it would make sense, sometimes even found it great, then aftern I listen to other interpretations of the same work, I would find Perahia gimmicky again. Sometimes I find S Richter's playing great, and empty at the same time.
 

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1) I never said that music contains philosophical truth. That is a distortion of my description of a perfect performance existing in the abstract that the performer is trying to achieve. And the distortion is a sophomoric attempt by a certain poster to "win" points.

2) I never said that one conductor has possession of the "truth" and others don't. I have said that he and others seek the inner depth of a musical score as a philosophy, and certain others treat the score as self-evident. This is not a news flash.

3) I don't care what "problem" you have with me. You're not going to bully me on this forum. Why don't you stick to discussion of the music? The simplest way to avoid straw man accusations is to quote someone directly as opposed to putting your own self-serving spin on their argument.

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I think your 2nd point is the one in contention, in relation to Szell.

From Szell's biographer, himself a conductor:

"His personal goal was to approach each score with the clearest possible understanding of the composer's style and intentions."

http://georgeszell.com/a-personal-reminiscence/

In other words, he was not a literalist

"What he said of Toscanini could also be said of Szell: "That he was a literalist in the trivial sense of the word is, I believe, nonsense. It is not possible for an artist like Toscanini to be a literalist; he was, I would rather say, a truth-seeker." "
 

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A disgrace to the (arguably) greatest conductor of the German repertoire.
Can't make everybody happy, but that statement comes across to me as a disgrace to all those great conductors of the German repertoire i hear as better than Furtwangler, like Walter, Bohm, Klemperer, Karajan. I hear Furtwangler as more mechanical than Szell, but that's just me.
 

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I think this is a very uncommon use of the association of "mechanical". There can be hardly any doubt that e.g. Furtwangler is far more flexible in tempo and generally more unpredictable. You are of course free to dis/like either of them but to claim that "mechanical" would characterize a "wayward" conductor better than a rather rigid one, is not very plausible.
By mechanical I include his accelerandos/ ritardandos, dynamics, etc. I don't hear as much phrasing of lines as in many conductors. He is like a robot machine to me mimicking human emotion, in general.
 

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On the discussion of spontaneity, Charles Munch was well known for the spontaneity in concert. Beethoven's 5th has lost all of its spontaneity for me over the years, but Munch's version made it fresh for me and is the only version I listen to from time to time now.

"When you played a concert with Charles Munch or attended one of his performances as a listener, it was not just a concert - It was an event. He never used the same palette twice. As a player, you had to give 110% of yourself, or be left out of the music."

-Vic Firth, percussionist, Boston Symphony Orchestra
 

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Yeah, that's an exciting recording. I've owned it for decades.

I was introducing someone to Brahms, in particular the lovely 3rd symphony Allegretto movement, and I realized it makes an interesting comparison.

With Furtwangler, I feel as if I am hearing with every note his obvious love and affection. Now, I revere this recording, but I can understand someone feeling that perhaps he is overstating the case, making too much of it. With some more epic works, the Beethoven 9th for example, or Wagner, it is almost impossible to overstate things. But with this movement perhaps Furtwangler's treatment takes away from the beautiful simplicity of the writing.

With Szell, we hear the clear contrast. This the other extreme - a "just the facts" interpretation. It sounds cold and clinical to me, as if Szell doesn't even like the piece.

I think Abbado/BPO strikes an ideal middle ground. Played with affectionate warmth, but not overemphasizing things. This is my prime recommendation for this work.
I'll play Hurwitz here. For this movement, my order of preference:

#1 Szell
#2 Furtwangler
#3 Abbado

I just don't like Abbado in Brahms, it sounds too corny for me. Szell's phrasing is at the same time the most engaging and subtle for me.
 
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