C1470. GEORGE SZELL Cond. Cleveland Orch.: Symphony #9 in d - Scherzo (Bruckner); w.PIERRE FOURNIER: Don Quixote (Strauss), with broadcast commentator's announcements. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 33-389. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Pierre Léon Marie Fournier was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire where his teachers there were Paul Bazelaire and Anton Hekking; he graduated in 1924 at the age of 17. Fournier made his début the year after his graduation. This was a solo appearance with the Concerts Colonne Orchestra, which received favorable notices. The almost invariable comment in reviews was the perfection of his bowing technique. He began a successful career as a touring concert artist and as a performer in chamber music concerts, gaining a great reputation in Europe. In 1937 to 1939, he was the director of cello studies at the École Normal . It was often said that he became a friendly rival with his contemporary, cellist Paul Tortelier. He prescribed the Sevcik violin bowing studies for his cello students.
In 1941, he became a member of the faculty at the Paris Conservatoire, but during the war years, his concert touring career was impossible. Once the war was over, though, was able to resume and he rapidly increased in fame and international stature. His old audience found that he had grown in artistic depth. Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, meeting Fournier in rehearsals for a 1947 Edinburgh Festival appearance, had not heard him for over ten years and wrote that he was ‘tremendously impressed by the Apollonian beauty and poise that his playing had acquired in the intervening years’. Szigeti, Fournier, violist William Primrose, and pianist Artur Schnabel formed a piano quartet in those years and gave some fabled concerts at which they played virtually all of Schubert's and Brahms' piano chamber music.
Fournier made his first U.S. tour in 1948. His chamber music partner Artur Schnabel spread the word among cellists, other musicians, and critics that they were to be visited by a great new cellist. The New York and Boston critics were ecstatic. He had to give up his Conservatoire post because of his expanding concert career; he appeared in Moscow for the first time in 1959. Commentator Lev Grinberg wrote that he was notable for a romantic interpretation, clarity of form, vivid phrasing and clean, broad bowing all ‘aimed at revealing the content’.
He had a broad repertoire, including Bach, Boccherini, the Romantics, Debussy, Hindemith, and Prokofiev. Composers Martinu, Martinon, Martin, Roussel, and Poulenc all wrote works for him. He had a standing Friday night date to privately play chamber music with Alfred Cortot, at which they might be visited by musicians like Jacques Thibaud. In 1953, he became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and was promoted to officer in 1963. In 1972, he retired to Switzerland and gave master classes. He still gave concerts, even as late as 1984 when he was 78.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
"It must be remembered that when George Szell came to prominence in the United States in the mid 1940s (and his mid-forties) he was a highly respected conductor and musician in Europe. He had a very solid grip on his repertoire which soon expanded to new works which he was debuting and championing. However, all that most music lovers around the world today know about Szell’s artistry they have divined from the recordings made by Columbia in Cleveland from the late 1940s on. In an interview with Szell as an intermission feature in one of the weekly broadcast concerts he stated that Columbia allowed him to record items that he requested only if they were not in conflict with Ormandy or Bernstein. Those he did make revealed meticulously prepared performances which could be misinterpreted as being somewhat objective. The lean balances of those LPs and then CDs only reinforced that impression."
- Bruce Surtees
“Part of the wave of great Hungarian conductors who took over American musical life just before and after World War II - the others included Fritz Reiner, Antal Doráti, and Eugene Ormandy - George Szell quickly transformed a middling Midwestern orchestra into one of the nation's ‘Big Five’. His cultivation of the Cleveland Orchestra set an example of discipline and hard work that gradually helped raise the standards of orchestras across America.
Szell was a wunderkind, playing a Mozart piano concerto with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra when he was ten, and composing a number of solid chamber and orchestral works in a lush, late Romantic style as a child and teenager. He was 17 when he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a program that included one of his own compositions.
Despite these early successes, Szell rose through the conducting ranks in the traditional way of the period, with a series of opera positions: Royal Opera of Berlin (1915-1917), Strasbourg (1917-1918), Prague (1919-1921), Darmstadt (1921-1922), and Düsseldorf (1922-1924). Szell's first prestigious post came to him in 1924, when he was named first conductor of the Berlin State Opera; he simultaneously served as a professor at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik. In 1929, he moved on to become general music director of the German Opera and Philharmonic in Prague, where he remained until 1937.
Szell began focusing more on orchestral repertory in the 1930s; he made his U.S. début as guest conductor of the St. Louis Symphony in 1930, and in 1937 he was appointed conductor of the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow, while maintaining a steady relationship with the Residentie Orkest in The Hague. Szell was in America in 1939 when war broke out in Europe; he remained in the U.S. through the war, first depending on guest engagements and then, in 1942, becoming a regular conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, where he was especially praised for his Wagner performances. In 1946 Szell took American citizenship and became music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, a post he held for 24 years. He was also the New York Philharmonic's music advisor and senior guest conductor during the last two years of his life.
Although Szell made recordings in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s for Decca, and in Cleveland at the end of his life for EMI, the bulk of his substantial discography was the result of his long collaboration with Columbia Records in Cleveland. There, Szell had inherited an able but ordinary orchestra and, through sheer determination, molded it into one of America's finest. A Szell performance was remarkable for its textural clarity, chamber-like balances, and precision of attack and release. He drilled his orchestra mercilessly, even in works it had performed with him not long before. Szell was particularly admired for his performances of Austro-Germanic classics from Haydn to Richard Strauss, his sharp renderings of works by a select group of twentieth century composers including Bartók, Prokofiev, Janácek, and Walton, and his idiomatic way with Dvorák. Indeed, some collectors maintain that Szell's monaural, early 1950s recording of Dvorák's Eighth Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra has never been equaled. His treatment of French composers, on the other hand, was criticized for its lack of atmosphere, and detractors maintained that he achieved precision at the expense of emotional expression. To those who demanded a warmer approach to his beloved Mozart, however, Szell is said to have retorted: ‘One does not pour chocolate sauce over asparagus’."
- James Reel, allmusic.com