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CD Review

Decca Legends - Legendary Performances

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #3 "Eroica"
  • Symphony #5
  • Symphony #7
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti
Decca 467679-2 ADD 2CDs 53:55, 69:25
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Béla Bartók

  • Concerto for Orchestra
  • Dance Suite
  • The Miraculous Mandarin: Suite
London Symphony Orchestra/Georg Solti
Decca 467686-2 ADD 71:23
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Although these are works that Solti would record later in his career with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, these earlier thoughts remain more satisfying, and they are worthy of inclusion in Decca's "Legends" series. The Beethoven symphonies were recorded in 1958 and 1959, just about the time that Solti was moving to "superconductor" status. Jeremy Siepmann's booklet notes recollect that the conductor's biggest influences were Wilhelm Furtwängler and Arturo Toscanini. Of the two, it is Toscanini's voice who speaks more loudly here, driving the music onward. "Relentless" is a word that certainly could be used to describe Solti's Beethoven, and there is not a moment on these discs, even in the slow movements, that isn't quivering with the adrenaline of an angry bull who is about to charge. That's not an inappropriate way to interpret these three symphonies, but of course that isn't the whole story. If you want charm and reposeful contrast, Solti will be too exhausting. (Unlike Toscanini, Solti does find room for humor in his readings. Try the Scherzo of the "Eroica" for a sample, and also, especially in the trio, to hear his flexibility in matters of tempo, something that is less characteristic of Toscanini as well.) If you want someone to storm the heavens or to wow you, then Solti's your man. These recordings were made in the Sofiensaal, produced by the great John Culshaw, and engineered by James Brown and Gordon Parry. The 96kHz, 24-bit digital transfer is superb, and the stylish, minimalist album covers from the original LPs are reproduced inside.

Solti recorded The Miraculous Mandarin suite in 1963, and the Concerto for Orchestra and Dance Suite in 1965. As with his Beethoven, Solti's Bartók is tense and aggressive. The best of these three readings is The Miraculous Mandarin, which makes the flesh crawl from its opening salvo. Solti is brutal and creepy, and he plays this ballet score with a hard, expressionist edge. The Dance Suite is bathed in more primary colors than usual; it is not one of Bartók's most consistent scores, and Solti's avoidance of excessive refinement is helpful. As drama, parts of the conductor's Concerto for Orchestra are among the most impressive on disc; the Finale is breathlessly exciting, and the comic turns in the "Intermezzo interrotto" are vulgar and disruptive. The "Giuoco della coppie" is a mellow showpiece for the excellent London winds. Least impressive are the "Introduzione" and the "Elegia," where Solti fails to create a suitably dark atmosphere, possibly a by-product of the otherwise excellent engineering, particularly the closely-miked solos. This lessens some of the music's contrast and power. Apart from that, the digital remastering is very fine. Culshaw produced the Concerto, Ray Minshull the Dance Suite, and Erik Smith The Miraculous Mandarin. The original engineers were Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle