WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Solti Conducts Wagner Strauss & Beethoven

Solti / Wagner / Strauss / Beethoven / Oroh / Bbso
Release Date: 06/28/2011 
Label:  Ica Classics   Catalog #: 5024  
Composer:  Richard WagnerRichard StraussLudwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden OrchestraBBC Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 1. WAGNER Der fliegende Holländer: Overture 2. R. STRAUSS Don Juan 3 Georg Solti, cond; 1 BBC SO; 2,3 Royal Opera House O ICA ICAD 5024, Read more mono (DVD: 96:20) Live: 1 London 5/13/1985; 2,3 9/22/1963 & 3/19/1967

& Rehearsal of Don Juan and Interview with John Culshaw

ICA continues its series of releases of historic broadcast concerts by eminent conductors, and this entry, while not flawless, is one of especial merit. During my 13 years of residence in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to see Sir Georg Solti in concert on many occasions. I did not always agree with his interpretations; once, when asked by a friend how a performance of Handel’s Messiah went, I cracked: “It had all the qualities that make Solti a great conductor of Bartók.” Nor was I partial to the severe, astringent string sound he produced in the then dull acoustics of Orchestral Hall. (How I wish the renovations done shortly after his departure, which have sonically transformed the hall, had occurred 15 years before!) However, I always remained in awe of his absolutely phenomenal knowledge and technical mastery of any score he took in hand and ability to communicate his intentions to both the orchestra and the audience. For me, with his passing the last great podium titan vanished; I cannot think of a single conductor living today of remotely comparable stature, and am always baffled by critics who carp at him and seek to dismiss the indisputable merits of his extensive recorded legacy.

Here we have film versions of three works, all of which Solti recorded more than once in the studio. In all cases, the interpretations did not change appreciably over the years, though both the Wagner overture and the Strauss tone poem are even more kinetic and highly charged in the conductor’s relatively young hands; he was in his early-50s and would have another three decades of music-making before him. These two performances are filmed in black and white under studio conditions, with the orchestra seated in an absolutely bare room on risers, though the conductor and players are clad in full concert garb. Likewise, the recorded sound in both has the clarity but unforgiving, in-your-face reflective quality of Avery Fisher Hall in New York. If the theme of Senta’s ballad is a little short on tenderness, one is astonished by Solti’s ability to articulate every single drop of water in the roiling waves of the Dutchman’s storm music and his ability to sculpt supercharged fortissimo climaxes.

Pride of place, however, goes to the Don Juan that follows. Here again, others have brought a degree more beguiling warmth to the lyrical passages, though Solti is far from lacking in that dimension. But the conductor’s attention to the minutest detail, his ability to make the orchestra articulate cleanly and clearly every instrumental part in even the most turbulent and dense passages, triggers jaw-dropping stupefaction. And this is done as no mere dry exercise in mechanical execution; the energy and excitement generated should have been harnessed by the municipal authorities in London to power the city’s electric dynamos. The accompanying rehearsal excerpts and interview excerpts with John Culshaw (the famed producer of Solti’s Ring cycle for Decca) alone would make this DVD worth its purchase price. In these candid shots we see that the conductor and the man were very much of a piece. During the interview Solti is constantly in motion; his acute, rapid-fire observations on points of interpretation (including an intriguing theory that Strauss uses three different motifs to present three distinct women as objects of the Don’s love) are sprayed like a verbal machine gun, reinforced by darting eyes, mobile facial expressions, sharply angular gestures, and constant shifting of his position on the sofa. On the podium in rehearsal, clad in his customary baggy sweater for leisure wear, one is again amazed at his absolute control of the musical environment. Every other conductor I have seen in rehearsal only utters brief phrases while conducting, and stops the orchestra to provide more detailed directions. Solti is the only one I have seen who can deliver ongoing instructions nonstop while conducting throughout, switching on a moment’s notice from addressing one section of the orchestra to another, with every indication delivered with absolute clarity and often without so much as a glance at the score.

The Beethoven Fifth at the end—filmed in concert and in color almost two decades later, with stereo sound that tends to be somewhat dry and unresonant—is comparatively speaking something of a letdown. Beethoven is a composer on which Solti and I never saw eye to eye; I always found the Hungarian maestro’s renditions to be one-sided, too rigid and relentlessly hard-driven, inflexible rather than energetic, lacking the humor that he brought to his superlative Haydn interpretations. Suffice it to say that his performance here is entirely of a piece with his various studio recordings in interpretive outlook and technical mastery. If that is how you like your Beethoven, then you will surely want this performance; if, like me, you do not, I nevertheless urge you to acquire this DVD for the terrific Wagner and Strauss items as a visual-auditory document of major historical importance. Highest recommendation, despite personal reservations regarding the Beethoven.

FANFARE: James A. Altena


- Don Juan rehearsal and interview with John Culshaw

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: Enhanced Mono, Ambient Mastering
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles (bonus): French, German
Running time: 96 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
Read less

Works on This Recording

Der fliegende Holländer: Overture by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841/1852; Germany 
Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Germany 
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title