Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 3,
Siegfriend’s Rhine Journey.
Tristan und Isolde:
Act 1 Prelude;
Georg Solti, cond; Birgit Nilsson (sop);
London PO; Royal Op House Covent Garden O
BBC LEGENDS 4239, analog (79:18) Live: London 1/30/1968;
Solti’s approach to the “Eroica” is less dynamic than might be expected from the conductor of the highest-voltage
on record. This is less forthright, at times even hesitant playing. Only the second chord of the opening has a razor sharp edge; the first is blunted by faulty ensemble. Although recorded at the South Bank’s Royal Festival Hall, the sound is over-reverberant, more what one would expect from the Royal Albert Hall across the river. The climactic, repeated chords just after the 12-minute mark, also, have some of the heft removed by the sound.
The exposition repeat is not observed. Despite some lack of inner energy, Solti keeps the music going and perhaps this omission of repeats was part of his thought-process. His awareness of line is never in doubt. He clearly carefully schooled his orchestra in linear balance; it is his structural grasp that is in question. The final indicator has to be that the “Eroica” emerges as a vast, indestructible edifice, and under Solti’s baton it is more an event-by-event occurrence. A comparison with Toscanini (from the 1939 NBC cycle recently reissued on Music & Arts 1203) reveals Toscanini, despite the setback of dry sound, as by far the most powerful interpreter. His tempos are swift in this movement, too, but the result is more terrifying than frenetic.
Patrick O’Connor’s liner notes deal with the knotty problem of Beethoven’s metronome markings and how Solti reacts to it by taking a relatively swift approach to the Funeral March. Here, the music moves inexorably on, with a climax (around 11 minutes in) that is almost overwhelming, and on to a post-climactic oasis of peace, and then to truly hushed final measures. To return to the Solti/Toscanini comparison above, Solti takes 17:30 against Toscanini’s 16:02; and yet Toscanini does not sound any faster, a direct result of his musical intent.
The opening string figures of the Scherzo are all but inaudible (thanks, no doubt, to the recording), while some of the punchier accents are softened. Similarly, the detailed linear movement of the three horn parts of the Trio is rather lost—a shame, as all the indications are that there is some fine playing going on here. Soltiesque dynamism is in full evidence at the finale’s opening gesture.
Solti recorded the “Eroica” with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1959 (for Decca), returning to it in 1972 with the Chicago Symphony, so this 1968 LPO account sits between the two (there is also a later Chicago account available). Even without that information, it might be possible to guess that this is a work in progress. As such, this is a valuable document that reveals Solti very much in interpretative transit.
The post-“Eroica” arrival of Siegfried journeying down the Rhine seems rather brash and unannounced (even if one knows it is coming). The ear takes a moment or two to adjust to this outpouring (taken from a Henry Wood Promenade Concert). Siegfried’s horn is appropriately distanced (although we lose the ascent to the high C), and there is much beautiful playing from all concerned here. Even if, characteristically, Solti lacks the larger-range sight of a Furtwängler here, his love of every note certainly grips the ear. The orchestra (Covent Garden) is in better form than was the LPO in the Beethoven. Textures are more assured. Given that this is taken from a Prom, applause is of course immediate after the subdued last note (a price one has to pay to this day at that particular arena).
excerpts. Solti recorded this work complete with Nilsson (with Fritz Uhl as Tristan, Decca 470814). She is his soloist here. The Prelude has a great sense of space, a space under-laid with urgency, and yet the climax is not really overwhelming. Nilsson sounds absolutely resplendent. Her first phrases are characterized by razor-like pitch accuracy and a cutting (but not unpleasant) tone that seems entirely appropriate. Little sense of the apotheosis that she achieves with Böhm in the driving seat though (DG 449772, perhaps the most famous of available
s), and the climax even seems a notch or two withheld from the orchestral viewpoint. Nevertheless, this is a worthy supplement to the Böhm. Again, the Prom folk are straight in there with the applause at the work’s close.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Tristan und Isolde: Act 3 Prelude by Richard Wagner
Sir Georg Solti
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Written: 1859; Germany
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