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Absolutely yes, he is, because he was an astounding musician and left us numerous superb recordings.

The rest is up to taste. For mine, I frequently find his recordings extremely satisfying.

I'm listening to the Szell/Cleveland Don Juan right now, and this recording still sweeps me away with its virtuosity, keen sense of drama, and thoughtful understanding of the dark side of the original poem that inspired Strauss to compose this.
 

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Claiming that one conductor has access to "deeper musical truths" over others is such absolute inane silliness that anyone who espouses such a claim deserves to be slapped about the head and face until they cease and desist. :lol:

Some prefer one conductor's approach, others another, and that's it, except that the conductor typically gets more credit than they quite deserve. It's all just taste, simple, banal taste, with or without attempts at justifying the preference, with or without employing vapid rhetoric or empty pseudophilosophy. In terms of the latter, I prefer without. ;)

I like Szell's recordings. I like his better than Furtwängler's, because I find the latter to be on occasion sloppy, boring, and predictable. YMMV.

Who knows which of the two I'd prefer to play for. I'll never know.

(ETA: disclaimer, I'm not really advocating that someone who makes silly remarks on a classical music message board should be harmed physically. Er, probably not.)
 

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Ask the people insisting on a continuous straw man argument. I made my opinion known pages ago. Apparently I'm not entitled to it.
Two hints for you, in hope of learning and growing:

1) Your opinion, such as it is, was never the problem.
2) It is not an example of the "straw man" logical fallacy when people are calling you out on or disputing what you literally wrote, or very close, accurate-within-reason parahrases of what you wrote. If you're unhappy with responses to what you wrote, it's on you to clarify what you mean.

Misapplication of straw man fallacy accusations, and false claims that you're not entitled your opinion, are neither doing you any good at all nor are they fooling anyone who can go back and read exactly what you wrote. Gaslighting will not help you.
 

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Well, my friends, I tried.

Getting back to this thread's actual topic, one of the demonstration recordings I like to use is Szell's Cleveland recording of Smetana's Overture to The Bartered Bride, mastered for SACD. It's just a spectacularly vivid performance and recording! Szell's Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream suite is similarly great, just sensationally good.
 

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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.
I think I get what you're saying. For me the problem with Furtwängler is how predictable his choices are. I was taken with some of his recordings on the first listen, but found for me that they didn't wear well. He always does the same things: brass get louder, go faster // strings play big melody, go slower // it's softer, go slower // woodwinds doing stuff, again, ugh??? I DUNNO I guess twiddle thumbs until brass loud go faster.

That for me summarizes Furtwängler's playbook.

I guess the words I would use to describe how Furtwängler's conducting sounds to me: artificial and contrived (and also weirdly sloppy in terms of ensemble and intonation.) It does sort of resemble how one might program MIDI to attempt making it sound musical.

I'm well aware many love what Furtwängler did, and this includes many musicians I admire. But I'm not a fan.

Give me Szell any day.
 

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To all who say they prefer Furtwängler over other options, who can argue with that? I won't. I just don't share that preference.

What I object to are statements that Furtwängler's tempo fluctuations and other liberties represent anything more inherently or objectively "intuitive," "honest," or "deeply felt." That they do not. If you like those choices, great, who can argue. But others are not necessarily less or more of those same qualities just for making different choices.

I also object to not-Furtwängler being labelled derisively as "pre-scripted," because in general it's all decided in advance. Everything! That's how professionals do it.

For professionals, it is always about very minute, careful, thoughtful, and repetitive preparation. Szell, Reiner, Karajan, Haitink, Skrowaczewski, Chailly, Klemperer, Muti, Jansons, Berglund, MTT, Abbado, Bernstein, Alsop, Maazel: all of them. Some of their choices work for me, other don't. Furtwängler's mostly don't. YMMV. But leaving too much to chance (unless you're John Cage) or actual, in fact spontaneity is a recipe for disaster. Furtwängler admittedly flirted with the edge of this, which is why so much of what he did to my ears sounds really, unlistenably sloppy. But his interpetive choices over the years are actually far too consistent to not have been studied. Relying on the moment means you lean most heavily on old, well-established habits, whether good or bad.

"From the heart," "intuitive," "spontaneous": that's all an illusion. You will never really know from a performance or recording whether the conductor adored the work they're performing, or detested it. That's called being a professional. But everything is prepared in advance; that's why we have rehearsals. In general Furtwängler created a myth at odds with the reality.

Mostly what the musicians are doing in performance in their head is counting a lot and hoping they don't screw it up. How much emotion do you bring to the table, when you're focused and concentrating on simple counting? Here's the rub: if you're not sure what the conductor is going to do, because you haven't rehearsed enough, you have to concentrate and count more. Musicians play more confidentally and boldly when they're well rehearsed, and play it safe and spend even more time counting when they're not.

In short, the Furtwängler myth of getting more spontaneous performances from fewer rehearsals is total, abject nonsense on multiple levels. Far more was studied and clearly pre-arranged than the myth allows.

You know what spontaneous (i.e. under-rehearsed) performances sound like, even of standard repertoire? Timid, under-played, careful, boring, sloppy crapola.
 

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Just compare video of the two men conducting, and it's obvious that one valued clarity and one was seeking something else.
That's fair.

I'm sure members of community orchestras are thinking mainly if not exclusively about counting and being together. The members of the Berlin Philharmonic, at least in Furtwängler's day, were interested in something more.
Nope. This is false. You have to count like crazy; the other option is screwing up.

There is literature about the importance of counting in the performance of music going back to the Baroque period, if not earlier. All professional musicians are counting more or less all the time, I guarantee it.

And the Berliner Philharmoniker was never, ever any different, because they're all just humans, too. Furtwängler wasn't some magical fairy who could make people play together with nothing more than his vague twirling gestures. It's just a fact that the more uncertain you are about what's happening on the podium, the more carefully you must count. It's true now and it was undoubtedly true then.

Learn to separate myth from reality.
 

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It's not a myth. By definition the tempo fluctuations required feeling the changes together in the moment, and they weren't done the same way every performance.
You still have to count. And in fact you have to count more when things aren't consistent or are under-rehearsed. That's just a fact.

And...I can't believe I let myself get sucked into another Furtwängler debate. Ugh.
 

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By definition the tempo fluctuations required feeling the changes together in the moment...
The more I contemplate the implications of this, the more absurd I think it is.

What, do you think humans are shoals of herring? Or flocks of starlings?

Hint: no such luck. Humans are primates. We require instructions.

Or maybe Furtwängler was telepathic! That must be it. Maybe he shot powerful, magic rays from his eyes that controlled people's actions! :lol:

No such luck, I'm afraid.

The weird truth is: you want things to sound "spontaneous"? Then you have to to rehearse more.

It's a paradox, but it's the truth. Otherwise you are able to only lean on old habits, good or bad, and an orchestra will paradoxically play more carefully and more sloppily, and either way in other regards what happens is totally predictable, because it'll be just how it went before, i.e. the opposite of spontaneous.

And musicians always have to count.
 

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Other than the polemical characterization deriding his Beethoven, I largely agree with you about Toscanini.

True objectivity is as much an illusion in music (or in anything humans do) as the idea that conductors are expressing emotions via their conducting.

The scientific method is necessary because humans cannot be objective.
 

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Is this thread about Szell? Are you sure? :lol:
It does seem to me there really shouldn't be much controversy about Szell. His career was decades ago; he had an undeniably great career, even to detractors; some people really like his recordings and some don't. I do. He achieved a degree of clarity and polished orchestra virtuosity with Cleveland that has very rarely ever been matched.

Szell's recording with Cleveland of the Notturno movement from Mendelssohn's incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the most magical moments in all of recorded music that I can think of! And the Overture and Scherzo are demonstration class, for both recording and orchestral virtuosity.
 

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I agree that Abbado/Berlin for Brahms offers an attractive "middle road" between Furtwängler and Szell, but, Brahmsianhorn, I feel you demonize Szell; to my ears your criticisms are very far from fair, even though Szell is not my own favorite for Brahms (and yet even so I would not want to do without having heard Szell's Brahms, and I get why people like it...)
 
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