Notes and Editorial Reviews
Internationally renowned for his opera conducting as musical director of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, particularly his interpretation of Wagner’s Ring cycle, Hungarian-born Sir Georg Solti was also a celebrated symphonic conductor. Taking up the post as director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969, Solti remembered his early performances with the CSO as “an absolute joy” and would remain with them for 22 years, leading them in their debut European tour – of which the concert on this recording was the first fixture. Recorded in 1971, the film on this DVD is taken from the CSO’s appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in the same year: their first ever concert outside America.
Felix Mendelssohn: A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, Op. 21: Overture
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Georg Solti, conductor Recorded at the Edinburgh International Festival, 4 September 1971
- Georg Solti in interview
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: Enhanced Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: French, German
Booklet notes: English, French, German
Running time: 67 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W:
MENDELSSOHN Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture. BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 • Georg Solti, cond; Chicago SO • ICA 5089 (DVD: 67:59) Live: Edinburgh 1971
Georg Solti on the Chicago Symphony
This being the centenary year of Georg Solti’s birth, numerous videos by and about him are being released and rereleased. As with his chief rivals for the pinnacle of conductorial fame in the latter half of the 20th century, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, Solti has both passionate admirers and critics, though for whatever reason it seems that the latter have become particularly vocal since his death. Having spent 13 years in Chicago (1980–93) during his tenure at the helm of the Chicago Symphony, I am definitely one of the former, though not unreservedly so. However, for anyone who, after reading innumerable attacks on Solti for his alleged interpretive brusqueness, excessively hard-driven tempos, overly hard-edged orchestral sound, etc., consequently wonders what anyone ever could have seen in the man’s interpretations, this video is a splendid rebuttal to those charges.
Here is Solti at his absolute peak—dynamic but not overly forceful, with his phenomenal mastery of every detail of whatever musical score lay before him at the moment. He radiates absolute confidence; I can’t recall any other performance I saw with him where he smiles so much. In some ways this concert was a triumphal return for him; he had suffered a rather rough tenure as the conductor of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, though by the time he left there his defenders outnumbered his detractors. Now, however, he was coming back to Britain with an ensemble that, under his martial drilling, had become a sleek machine of sonic excellence, ready at long last to gain rightful recognition as one of the premier orchestras in the world alongside those of Berlin, Vienna, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
The Chicago Symphony (in its first-ever performance outside North America) fulfills those expectations, and more. After just two years under Solti, it already plays with razor-sharp precision (but not the slightest hint of anything stiff or mechanical) and the absolute self-confidence of a conquering army receiving the joyous adulation of a newly liberated populace. Given a venue with a much warmer acoustic than Symphony Hall in Chicago (the latter now vastly improved by renovations made some years after Solti’s departure), the strings play with sheen and genuine warmth of tone. The woodwind and brass sections are nothing short of stunning in their virtuosity and blend; this DVD is almost worth acquiring just to hear legendary principal hornist Dale Clevenger in his youthful prime. (Has the horn solo in the finale of the Brahms ever received a more beautiful rendition?) Co-concertmaster Sidney Weiss and principal woodwind players Clark L. Brody, Jr. (clarinet), Donald Peck (flute), and Ray Still (oboe) also make particularly noteworthy solo contributions. (There are some interesting camera shots of the latter two, personal arch-enemies who Solti famously forced to reconcile professionally in a meeting in his office, playing side by side. However much they hated each other, they certainly could make fabulous music together despite it.)
As for the interpretations, the Mendelssohn overture is very good, and the Brahms symphony absolutely superlative. In the former, the scurrying string motif immediately following the famous opening chords is perhaps pressed just a tad too vigorously at first to convey the music’s good-humored geniality, but Solti quickly pulls back and allows graceful playfulness and even gentleness to emerge. As for the Brahms, I had thought never to hear a performance to rival the latter two of Bruno Walter’s three studio accounts, but this one does, and possibly even surpasses them. It combines dramatic power, autumnal reflectiveness, and lyrical expansiveness in absolutely right proportions and at precisely the right moments, with the finale in particular unfolding as a stunning orchestral peroration. Solti’s conducting is less angular than it would later become—he uses the baton far more and his elbows far less to cue the orchestra—and draws forth much playing of relaxed graciousness as well as vigor. This is probably as unbuttoned and relaxed a performance as he ever led.
The recorded sound is marvelous for its era; the camerawork is likewise very well done, with just the right balance of solo shots of Solti and the principal players alternating with those of orchestral sections and the full orchestra, without the jittery jumpiness of overly busy flitting around. As a bonus, a five-minute excerpt is included from a 1972 Omnibus television program (with embedded German subtitles), in which Solti speaks of the musical and professional gratification he has found in becoming the conductor of the Chicago Symphony. There are also brief excerpts from the overture to Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, the scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and the second movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (can someone identify the vocal soloist for me?). My only complaint is with the short timing of this disc; one positively craves more of such riches. This is the first orchestral concert video I have ever seen that I ultimately intend to place in the Fanfare Classical Hall of Fame—it is that magnificent. Urgently recommended, and a short-list candidate for the 2013 Want List.
FANFARE: James A. Altena Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Sir Georg Solti
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1855-1876; Austria
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