Sir Georg Solti

Conductor

Sir Georg Solti

Solti's interpretations held more than surface excitement. In conducting Beethoven, for example, he long held that the symphonies should be played with all their repeats to maintain their structural integrity, and he carefully rethought his approach to tempo, rhythm, and balance in those works toward the end of his life.

In 1972 he became a British subject and received his official knighthood; under the circumstances, he also sanctioned the pronunciation of his first name as "George," although he retained the German spelling.

Solti was regarded as, above all, a superb Wagnerian. His performances and countless recordings of other nineteenth century German and Austrian music were also well-regarded, as were his Verdi and his frequent forays into such twentieth century repertory as Bartók, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. Solti served as a strong advocate for such new works as Hans Werner Henze's Heliogabalus Imperator, David Del Tredici's Final Alice, and Michael Tippett's Symphony No. 4, all of which he premiered in Chicago.

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An Evening at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

An Evening at the Lyric Opera of Chicago


Boito:

L'altra notte in fondo al mare (from Mefistofele)

Renata Tebaldi

Giordano, U:

Nemico della patria (from Andrea Chénier)

Ettore Bastianini

Mozart:

Voi che sapete (from Le nozze di Figaro)

Giulietta Simionato

Ponchielli:

È un anatema (from La Gioconda)

L’amo come il fulgor del creato (from La Gioconda)

Renata Tebaldi and Giulietta Simionato

Saint-Saëns:

Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix (from Samson et Dalila)

sung in Italian as 'S'apre per te il mio cor'

Giulietta Simionato

Tchaikovsky:

Puskay pogibnu ya 'Tatiana's Letter Scene' (from Eugene Onegin)

Renata Tebaldi


The Lyric Opera of Chicago was founded as recently as 1954, but within two years it had secured the services of many operatic stars of the day, who were doubtless reassured of the quality and warmth of reception at the company by the trailblazing US debut of Maria Callas as Norma in its first season. Sir Georg Solti, too, made his operatic debut in the US not with the more storied Metropolitan in New York but in Chicago, conducting Salome, Die Walküre and Don Giovanni within a fortnight of each other in October 1956. He then returned in November to lead two performances of La forza del destino followed, on the 10th, by a Gala Concert which was recorded by Decca and is now reissued here.

The singers were worthy of a gala anywhere in the world. Replacing Jussi Bjorling at short notice, Richard Tucker sang the Andrea Chénier duet with Renata Tebaldi, with Ettore Bastianini adding ‘Nemico della patria’ from the same opera. The evening was dominated by Tebaldi, however, in solo roles that she had made her own on stage (Delilah, Tatyana, Mefistofele’s Margherita) and in duet both with Tucker and with the mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato, then in the prime of her career. ‘So it went on and over,’ reported Seymour Raven in the Chicago Tribune, ‘with musical and emotional climaxes topping one another in the best gala concert style.’

Previous Eloquence reissues have restored to availability many of the LP-era operatic recordings made by Solti: not only complete works but recitals and galas such as Solti at Covent Garden (480 8957), and a complementary compilation, ‘Solti at the Ballet’ (480 6589), ‘George London sings Wagner’ (480 7064) and early-career overtures with the LPO (480 6588).

This live recording has had a chequered career on disc. It was originally issued in 1958, but contractual issues prevented the inclusion of the Chénier duet. The opening Forza del destino overture was sacrificed to accommodate the record of the event on a single LP, and both items were missing from the concert’s first CD issue in 2009 within a 5CD Decca box dedicated to ‘Great Voices of the 1950s’. They have finally been restored, and the complete recording has been newly remastered. For the first time it may be enjoyed in full as a one-off record of, without doubt, some of the greatest voices of that era.

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Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Mahler: Symphony No. 9


After the Fourth in 1961, the First in 1964 and the Second in 1966, the Ninth was the fourth of Mahler’s symphonies to be recorded for Decca by Sir Georg Solti. Symphonies 1, 2 and 9, and No. 3 from 1968, were all made with the London Symphony Orchestra, but the cycle quickly expanded its horizons to become a portmanteau affair reflecting Solti’s status as a fiery interpreter, in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Solti revisited the whole Mahler symphony cycle with the Chicago Symphony after he became its music director in 1969.

The 1960s also covered the period of Solti’s tumultuous tenure as music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. There he earned an international reputation as a phenomenally hard and quick worker who expected his musicians to follow him with a will. Many of their live performances were driven with an extraordinary tension: a quality that does not often survive in the studio, but by then Solti was an experienced and astute recordings conductor.

‘A record needs a greater amount of everything,’ he said in 1968: ‘more dynamics, more rhythm, more expressions. At a live concert there is a rapport between the performers and the audience: a sort of hypnosis is exerted by the conductor suggesting that there is more expression than is actually there. On a record that doesn’t exist so you put into it something extra to compensate. Then, keeping up the tension is more important in the studio because in a concert hall it’s there naturally. There’s really a thesis to be written on this.’

Although he remade the Ninth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony in the digital era, many listeners have felt, comparing the two recordings, that it is precisely this quality of tension which is better preserved on the LSO record from 1967. Not only are the tempi tauter, but the contrasts are more keenly registered, especially in the major/minor conflict of the long opening movement. As with the slow finale of the Third Symphony (reissued by Eloquence on a complementary release with the First, ELQ4827177), Solti keeps the ineffable and sorrowful finale on a tight rein before finally allowing it to fade to extinction.

“Solti’s approach […] is nearest to that of Barbirolli, in its emphasis on emotional and nervous intensity, though the result is quite different … The [Rondo-Burleske] is taken dangerously fast, but it is brought off by some brilliant orchestral playing … In the Adagio finale, on the other hand, the extreme contrast between the two elements of passion and passionlessness is most beautifully handled … All in all, a superb issue of the symphony.” Gramophone Magazine, October 1967

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Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3

Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3


Mahler:

Symphony No. 1 in D major 'Titan'

Symphony No. 3

Helen Watts (mezzo-soprano)

Wandsworth School Boys Choir & Ambrosian Opera Chorus


For years, admitted Sir Georg Solti to High Fidelity magazine in January 1967, ‘Mahler bored me. He came to me, or I came to him, eight or nine years ago. Up to then his symphonies were all pieces and bits. Now I see their form. I love them. It is not enough to like music. You must love. And love means change.’

By the time he was to record the First Symphony, with the London Symphony Orchestra, by modern standards he did so at a comparatively ripe age of 52. But the critics were immediately struck by the youthful dynamism of Solti’s conception, which was entirely apt to a work conceived by a composer in his early twenties. When High Fidelity came to survey all the Mahler symphony recordings on record in September 1967, this version of the First was declared ‘probably the best both in interpretation and in recording’, even up against stiff competition from more experienced Mahlerians such as Jascha Horenstein and Rafael Kubelík.

So began one of the defining Mahler cycles on record. To begin with, it was an international affair, made with the principal orchestras of London (Nos. 1-3 and 9), Amsterdam (No.4), and Chicago (Nos. 5-8). The London and Amsterdam recordings were later remade in Chicago, during the digital era, but Solti’s initial interpretations retain a special freshness. They are mostly swifter than the remakes, though not rushed. Slow movements such as the Third Symphony’s final, glorious Adagio unfold naturally, with a sweeping passion that may be closer to the composer’s original conception than the dirge-like tread of many later interpreters. The Ninth has also been reissued by Eloquence on a complementary issue (482 7163).

In the mid-1960s, too, the LSO was the perfect orchestra for the job: a virtuoso ensemble with a brass section famed the world over. It was the British orchestra of choice for the world’s Mahler interpreters, playing the symphonies in concert far more frequently than their rivals and making recordings such as these of phenomenal accuracy and intensity.

“The spacious parts of the first movement and finale are given plenty of time to unfold unhurriedly, and the brashly triumphant ending is put across in real style, with the trumpets and horns hitting every note like a bull’s-eye at a rifle range. As a combination of top-class recording, orchestral playing and conducting, this is one of the finest recordings I have ever listened to.” Gramophone Magazine, September 1964 (Symphony No. 1)

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Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex

and works by Strauss and Kodály


Kodály:

Háry János Suite

Strauss, R:

Elektra (highlights)

Stravinsky:

Oedipus Rex

Peter Pears (Oedipus), Kerstin Meyer (Jocasta), Donald McIntyre (Creon), Benjamin Luxon (Messenger), Alec McCowen (narrator)


Both Strauss’s Elektra and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex trace their lineages back to Sophocles, the Greek dramatist who lived in the fourth century BC. Both are stories of the avenging of a royal father’s murder, either by surviving family members (Elektra), or by Fate or the gods themselves (Oedipus Rex).

Even from an early age, Georg Solti knew that his greatest ambitions lay in the opera house. ‘From a purely musical point of view, working closely with singers teaches you to make music in a way that breathes – even in purely instrumental music,’ Solti once remarked. In his youth, Solti assisted Bruno Walter, Issay Dobrowen, Fritz Busch and Erich Kleiber. In Salzburg, in 1937, he was rehearsal pianist for Arturo Toscanini. So, by the time he came to conducting his first opera (Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro) at age 26, he knew the ropes, so to speak. According to him, to ‘play rhythmically but softly, so that the singers always feel the pulse but need not tire their voices’ was a crucial factor in being a repetiteur. He continued, ‘don’t play all the notes, but play all the essential notes; when you are coaching an individual singer in a role, take the lead, but when you are playing for a staging or ensemble rehearsal, follow – follow for dear life! I was able to follow the worst singer to hell and back. I could have followed a bird’s chirping.’

Exclusively a Decca recording artist (apart from a few recordings made for Deutsche Grammophon, RCA and CBS by arrangement with Decca), he made more than 250 recordings for the company over a 50-year period: 1947–1997, taking in music from Bach to Tippett. The three excerpts from Elektra (amounting to nearly half the complete opera) are particularly fascinating as this was an opera Solti conducted throughout his career and which he later recorded in its entirety in Vienna in the 1960s with the incomparable Birgit Nilsson in the title-role. Even in this group of three scenes all the essential Solti characteristics are in evidence: tremendous rhythmic drive and an acute ear for orchestral colour and detail.

“the dark sobriety and essentially lyric qualities of Stravinsky’s “opera-oratorio” are freshly and memorably conveyed in this recording” Gramophone Magazine, February 1978 (Stravinsky)

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Kodály & Bartók: Orchestral Works

Kodály & Bartók: Orchestral Works


Bartók:

Dance Suite, BB 86, Sz. 77

Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta, BB 114, Sz. 106

Kodály:

Háry János Suite

Variations on a Hungarian Folksong 'The Peacock'

William McAlpine (tenor)

London Philharmonic Choir

Psalmus hungaricus, Op. 13

William McAlpine (tenor)

London Philharmonic Choir

Dances of Galanta


Georg Solti studied piano with Bartók and although they never developed a close personal relationship, Solti was always in awe of the composer’s dedication and intensity. Bartók’s music featured regularly in Solti’s concert programs and he recorded the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and the Dance Suite again for Decca. This 1952 recording of the Dance Suite with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was one of his earliest orchestral discs and the conductor’s instinctive sense of rhythm is ever-pervasive. There are also some delightful touches of humour to be encountered in these recordings, such as those in Kodály’s Háry János Suite.

Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus was the first work to bring him international recognition, and it also brought him back into favour at home. It was composed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of the cities of Óbuda, Buda, and Pest to form modern-day Budapest. Solti revisited both the Peacock Variations and Psalmus Hungaricus 43 years after the present recording, in June 1997. This 1954 recording of Kodály’s choral masterpiece is performed in English.

“Orchestra and chorus shine in the Psalm […] Georg Solti is to be congratulated on two such vital readings” Gramophone Magazine, October 1954 (Psalmus Hungaricus, Peacock Variations)

“The finale goes with an exhilarating swagger, and the balance between the trumpets’ and horns’ imitative block chords is well maintainied” Gramophone Magazine, August 1955 (Kodály: Háry János)

Building a Library

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Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 & Violin Concerto

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 & Violin Concerto


Beethoven:

Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61

Mischa Elman (violin)


Georg Solti recorded the Beethoven Fourth three times – twice with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1974, 1987) and in 1950 with the London Philharmonic. The LPO recording was among Solti’s earliest Decca recording sessions and was issued, first on 78rpm and immediately after on LP using Decca’s then revolutionary FFRR technology.

Fêted by the Victor Talking Machine Company in the early decades of the twentieth century, Mischa Elman was a considerable presence in the recording world in those years. The arrival of Jascha Heifetz in 1917 had a considerable impact on violin recordings in general, and public interest in Elman flagged. Victor was Elman’s company for more than 40 years, but in 1954 he decided to move to Decca for whom he recorded several concertos (something relatively absent from his Victor repertoire). For his recording of the Beethoven concerto he was paired with the young Solti, who allowed him due elasticity and freedom of interpretation. While there’s no pretending that by 1955 when the recording was made Elman was past his prime, it remains a fascinating account – a meeting of two very different minds, with dynamic extremes on Solti’s part and an instinctive nineteenth-century leaning towards portamento on Elman’s.

“many good qualities, and the recording is excellent” Gramophone Magazine (Violin Concerto)

“the flute tone is noticeably sweet […] Tonally and technically this is a wide-ranging record” Gramophone Magazine, May 1951 (Symphony No. 4)

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Sir Georg Solti conducts Haydn & Mozart

Sir Georg Solti conducts Haydn & Mozart


Haydn:

Symphony No. 100 in G major 'Military'

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Symphony No. 102 in B flat major

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Symphony No. 103 in E flat major 'Drum Roll'

first international release on Decca CD

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Mozart:

Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K183

London Symphony Orchestra

Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 'Prague'

London Symphony Orchestra

Serenade No. 13 in G major, K525 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik'

first international release on Decca CD

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra


As part of the Eloquence series of early Solti recordings, this 2CD set features the conductor in music by Haydn and Mozart, recorded between 1949 and 1958. The 1949 recording of Haydn’s ‘Drum Roll’ Symphony and the 1958 recording of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik (recorded in spatial early stereo) make their first international appearances on Decca CD. Solti re-recorded the three Haydn symphonies heard here, again with the London Philharmonic, adding the remaining ‘London’ Symphonies, between 1981 and 1991 in stereo. Likewise, he re-recorded the Mozart ‘Prague’ in 1981 as part of a set of the composer’s four last symphonies, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The fiery, passionate account of the G minor, KV 183, and the stereo Eine kleine Nachtmusik are his only recording of these works.

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Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 & 7 & Schubert: Symphony No. 5

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 & 7 & Schubert: Symphony No. 5


Beethoven:

Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica'

Wiener Philharmoniker

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

Wiener Philharmoniker

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

Wiener Philharmoniker

Schubert:

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D485

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra


Erich Kleiber was one of Georg Solti’s idols and it was a Kleiber performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was, by his own admission, the catalyst in his decision to become a conductor – a decision he made at the age of fourteen. The Schubert recording comes from one of only two recording sessions with the Israel Philharmonic – in May 1958. It is genial, but not without the Solti trademark of excitement.

Solti recorded two complete Beethoven symphony cycles, both with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in both analogue (1974) and digital (1986–90) formats. With the Vienna Philharmonic in 1958–9 he recorded the Third, Fifth and Seventh symphonies. (He also made a ‘live’ recording of the Fifth with this orchestra in 1990.) Over several decades he worked extensively with the Viennese players, and despite making several legendary recordings with them openly admitted that it was seldom a harmonious relationship, especially in those early years: ‘They hated me. For many years I used to say that my favourite street in Vienna was the road to the airport’.

This reissue continues Eloquence’s tribute to Sir Georg Solti with, in the main, reissues of his earlier Decca recordings.

“masterly from a technical point of view, and in the main very impressive interpretations. They are of the big, heavy, powerful kind, though usually with plenty of drive where it’s required.” Gramophone Magazine, December 1959 (Beethoven)

“There is a lot of beautiful playing […] What I like best about this disc is the marvellous sound” Gramophone Magazine, May 1959 (Schubert)

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Solti Overtures

Solti Overtures


Beethoven:

Egmont Overture, Op. 84

Rossini:

L'Italiana in Algeri Overture

First international release on Decca CD

Il barbiere di Siviglia Overture

First international release on Decca CD

Suppe:

Leichte Kavallerie Overture

First international release on Decca CD

Dichter und Bauer Overture

First international release on Decca CD

Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien Overture

First international release on Decca CD

Pique Dame Overture

First international release on Decca CD

Verdi:

La forza del destino Overture

First international release on Decca CD


This collection of overtures – many of them appearing internationally on Decca CD for the first time – comes from the very start of Georg Solti’s recording career. That for Beethoven’s Egmont was, in fact, his first recording as conductor, issued as a 78rpm record. The two Rossini overtures were issued as a 45rpm and the Verdi was included on a collection of other overtures and orchestral music from opera.

Solti re-recorded several of the overtures in this collection in stereo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic. But for sheer explosive energy, these rare mono recordings from the late-1940s and the first half of the 1950s remain as persuasive as ever and are collectors’ items.

“First-rate, both of them, with every player on his toes (which is the only position in which to play Rossini) and the result is of both charm and virtuosity. A bright recording suits the character of the music…” Gramophone Magazine, December 1955 (Rossini)

“The playing is real musical, intelligent, and interested.” (Suppe) Gramophone, November 1951 Most enjoyable … well recorded” Gramophone Magazine, July 1951 (Verdi)

“The playing is real musical, intelligent, and interested” Gramophone Magazine, November 1951 (Suppe)

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Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes

First International release on CD


Downs:

Bear Down, Chicago Bears

arr. John T. Boudreau

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Georg Solti

Smith, J S:

The Star-Spangled Banner

arr. Frederick Stock

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Georg Solti

Sousa:

The Stars and Stripes Forever

A Ballet in Five Campaigns (adapted and arranged by Hershy Kay)

National Philharmonic Orchestra, Henry Lewis

King Cotton

arr. Rogers

National Philharmonic Orchestra, Henry Lewis

Semper Fidelis

arr. Rogers

National Philharmonic Orchestra, Henry Lewis

El Capitan

arr. Rogers

National Philharmonic Orchestra, Henry Lewis


Choreographer George Balanchine gave many gifts to the American people – and to the New York City Ballet – but the most typically American and sparkling of these gifts was the ballet Stars and Stripes, which was premiered in 1958, and has been revived many times since. Sousa’s music was adapted and assembled into a 30-minute score by Hershy Kay (1919–81), who enjoyed several earlier collaborations with the New York City Ballet.

Sousa loved baseball, and he even wrote a march, The National Game, to honour it. Baseball remains the national sport in the United States, but many Americans will agree that football has supplanted it, in terms of popularity and revenue. Chicago’s National Football League team, the Chicago Bears, was recognized by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Sir Georg Solti conducting, in January 1986, when they performed the Bears’ fight song, Bear Down, Chicago Bears, as a surprise concert encore. The song was recorded shortly thereafter, along with The Stars and Stripes Forever and the American national anthem, and released as a 7” 45rpm single – surely the most unusual recording Solti and the Chicagoans ever made. All these recordings receive their first international release on CD.

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