While I have to disagree with your exclusion of all of Szell's classical or romantic symphony interpretations from being among the best, I do concur with your assessment of his Mahler Fourth. In no special order, I would prefer Kletzki/Philharmonia, Klemperer/Philharmonia, Kubelik/BRSO, Solti/Amsterdam (Royal) Concertgebouw, Horenstein/London Philharmonic, Bernstein/New York Philharmonic, Tennstedt/London Philharmonic and Walter/New York Philharmonic (mono).Funny you mention it as that is maybe my favorite Szell recording. His Richard Strauss was great - the DJ, Don Quixote with Fournier, Tod und Verklärung, and Till Eulenspiegel all among the best.
OTOH, I can't think of a single case where I would name Szell's version of a Classical or Romantic symphony to be among the best, not even the famous Mahler 4th which I find clinical. They sound to me too by-the-numbers, too straight forward.
Until I pop in Beecham, Walter, Jochum, Bernstein, or Klemperer and realize Classical works can be done with warmth without losing the sense of proportion and balance.Szell's surgical, level-headed presentation of scores works well for me in Mozart and Haydn.
Yes, that Brahms 1st collaboration with Curzon is dramatic as hell, well engineered by Culshaw.Brahms first concerto with Curzon.
Yes, those are my favorites for Mozart and Haydn symphonies as well (particularly Walter and Klemperer in Mozart) for exactly the reason you cite, but I do find value in Szell's more "gruff," sharply-etched approach. It's what I reach for if I want a more HIP approach without the IMO unattractive sound of period instruments.Until I pop in Beecham, Walter, Jochum, Bernstein, or Klemperer and realize Classical works can be done with warmth without losing the sense of proportion and balance.
I do like him as conductor as I detailed earlier. As accompanist I would like to highlight his 1962 recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Pierre Fournier with Szell conducting in that case the Berlin Philharmonic. My favorite recording of the great Cello Concerto by Dvorak...........................
As a matter of fact, my favorite Szell recordings are when he is functioning as accompanist - providing a secure and sonorous orchestral canvas for his soloists to work their magic. The Four Last Songs with Schwarzkopf is one of the most sublime recordings of anything that I know, and I love the Beethoven piano concerti with Gilels and Brahms first concerto with Curzon.
It's not bad but it has one of the most jarring tempo relations between a (very slow) introduction and (rather fast) main section of the first movement which is a major downside for me. (The missing repeats in the scherzo could be an upside...)Well, Szell's Schubert's 9th (Epic lp and Sony cd) gives me the incisiveness and drive I prefer over all other interpretations I've heard.
Agree about Szell's "Eroica", not my favourite among his discography though I know some will disagree.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.
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.His underlying philosophy, that the emotional depth of a work is best conveyed by presenting it clearly (rather than hamming it up).
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.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.