Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 63
Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, "Enigma"
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded at the Royal Festival Hall, London, 13 February 1975
(Symphony No. 2), and 25 September 1979 (Enigma)
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: LPCM Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Running time: 84 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W S:
Symphony No. 2
Variations on an Original
Sir Georg Solti, cond; London PO
ICA 5011 (DVD: 84:00) Live: London
George Szell said that you always can tell if a conductor beats the downbeat precisely, because this will be reflected in the cohesion of the orchestra. On this DVD, Sir Georg Solti is so precise a conductor, and the results are mostly thrilling. I only heard Solti live once, leading his youth orchestra at Carnegie Hall. I never will forget the opening of Strauss’s
; it was as though a bolt of lightning had passed through the orchestra. Solti made a point of studying Elgar’s own recordings to inform his interpretations on this DVD. Both conductors possessed a wide dynamic range and a penchant for strong accents. Solti also shared with Toscanini a degree of control that enabled him to achieve striking effects with a minimum of expressive gestures.
Solti’s Symphony No. 2 is a magnificent achievement. I compared it to Sir Adrian Boult’s 1944 recording with the BBC Symphony, and found that while Boult is at times more tender, Solti is more vigorous and colorful. Solti begins the first movement with swagger plus flexibility, truly
His management of the strings is worthy of Sir John Barbirolli. The movement’s quiet middle section is ravishingly lyrical—nothing sounds metronomic. This gives the lie to the notion that Solti was just a loud conductor. The Larghetto begins and ends mysteriously, a very Elgarian mood. Solti luxuriates in the string tone, yet there’s no loss of momentum. The whole movement is deeply emotional, with a ravishing final
. In the rondo, Solti brings out the woodwind figurations tellingly. With Solti’s vivid accents, this movement feels like a scherzo. The opening theme of the finale sounds
, though it is direct and unaffected. The second theme possesses classic English grandeur. Solti gives the development section brilliant clarity. The symphony’s quiet finale seems especially luminous. All in all, this is an Elgar Second for the ages.
I am a little less taken with Solti’s
, although it is still very impressive. The performance is not as fast as the composer’s 1926 recording, and does not copy Elgar’s tempo fluctuations within individual variations. Solti’s digital recording with the Vienna Philharmonic has a more autumnal feel than this London performance; surprisingly, the playing is better in London. The first variation, Elgar’s wife, is suitably romantic. “R.B.T.” sounds bumptious, while “W.M.B.” makes a racket. “Richard Arnold”’s serious conversation here seems like a precursor of Nimrod’s variation. “W.N.” is Mozartian, “a suggestion of an 18th-century household,” Elgar wrote. “Nimrod” has a hushed beginning. Solti preserves its line marvelously and flexibly, catching each turn in Nimrod’s oration. The variation builds to a splendid climax. “Dorabella” is balletic. Solti really has the brass bark like “G.R.S.”’s bulldog, Dan. “B.G.N.” receives glorious string tone for this amateur cellist. Solti’s rendition of the composer’s own variation is filled with testosterone. In sum, Solti presents a vivid
, but perhaps not a memorable one. In particular, I miss a sense of tenderness and affection.
It is good to see Rodney Friend as the LPO’s leader in the symphony, urging on his troops. I have fond memories of Friend’s brief stint as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, including a performance he gave of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto. The principal oboe in the London Philharmonic was sacked by Solti when he became the LPO’s principal conductor in 1979 (his replacement plays in
). Bernard Haitink, Solti’s predecessor, was so angered by this move that he switched his allegiance for a number of years from the LPO to the Philharmonia. My favorite digital recordings of both works are by Yehudi Menuhin and the Royal Philharmonic. Menuhin was the last conductor to have a direct connection to Elgar.
The sound engineering, from Royal Festival Hall, in both Solti concerts is very good monaural, with a particularly fine balance. Each concert has a different director, both of whom make sensible and unobtrusive camera choices. Connoisseurs of great conducting really owe it to themselves to see and hear Solti’s Elgar Second. I fully understand why Adolph Herseth, the Chicago Symphony’s great principal trumpet, had tears streaming down his cheeks when he blew taps at Solti’s grave in Hungary.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
ICA have done well - and valiantly – to show us what all the fuss was about with Solti’s LPO Elgar in the 1970s.
They say this is the first time these televised live concert performances have been released on DVD. Were they ever released on videocassette or any other video format – I think not. Solti’s stereo analogue reading of Elgar 2 is known from the Decca LP and cassette recording of the time complete with its iconic sleeve design. It has been much reissued. I saw and still remember the 1975 broadcast under review, believe it or not - on a small black and white TV; it was electrifying even then. Now it has a new breadth and visual zest. It’s an added dimension that really adds usefully to the musical-emotional experience. As for Enigma, Solti’s Decca audio version was with his long-time collaborators, the Chicago Symphony. This DVD allows us to hear him in company with the LPO also at London’s Royal Festival Hall. This venue is splendid in its natural light-wood-appointed walls and floors and with an audience present. There is the odd cough – as at 3.31 in the first movement of the Symphony but nothing really untoward. Neither of these works were filmed in high-definition – unthought of at the time - but the picture is stable and makes for more than acceptable viewing. The Second Symphony is in agreeably clear colour – slightly bleached by comparison with the marginally warmer picture for the 1979 Enigma.
The iconoclastic and passionate Solti flies at the symphony like a Fury. His vitality is mirrored by his athletic podium style with stabbing extravagant gestures that yet stop short of Bernstein’s exuberance. He has the LPO playing at the extreme end of their technical compass. The music exhales breathless excitement especially in I and III with phrases almost, but not quite, falling over each other. This is not thin-lipped Elgar nor is it stiff-upper-lipped. The music goes with a whoop and a sob - Tchaikovskian even. Solti shows absolute identification with the music in his manner and sweeping movements. In the quieter sections he finds time and space for the philosophically reflective. In the finale at 46:33 that stomped out syncopation over wondrously viscous French horns with their mountain-high heroic melody is truly exhilarating.
Enigma comes from an RFH concert four years later and benefits from a warmer bloom to the picture. Again Solti is remarkable for his liberal doses of accelerant and torque. Listen to the skittishly Mendelssohnian Dorabella. WMB, Troyte and GRS are reminiscent of Beecham’s Elgar – not to be dismissed. Solti finds the pulse and keeps it racing. This is not to say that he has no repose as we can hear in WN – another peaceably pastoral kingdom. Nimrod is hushed yet the forward momentum is always present. In the Dorabella viola solo the camera is in the right place but the microphones only lightly pick up the instrument’s sound. The finale ends in a blaze.
The mind implies sumptuous in both cases yet the sound, while being as good as it can be and reporting tiers of detail and emotional punch, is good/competent rather than refulgent.
The broadcast direction for the Symphony has little in the way of zooming in on particular players or benches. It favours the broad view, looking down on the conductor or viewing the span of the orchestra from behind the podium. Enigma indulges the zoomed detailing a little more but not fussily so.
The booklet notes are in English, French and German.
This is a very welcome chance to find out what all the fuss was about with Solti’s headlong passionate Elgar. Pity there was no televised In The South!
– Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International Read less
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