BBC Legends – Sir Georg Solti (Beethoven and Wagner)

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Götterdämmerung – Siegfried’s Rhine JourneyTristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod

Birgit Nilsson (soprano) [Liebestod]

London Symphony Orchestra [Eroica]
The Covent Garden Orchestra
Sir Georg Solti

Beethoven recorded on 30 January 1968 in Royal Festival Hall, London; Wagner recorded at BBC Proms on 6 September 1963 in Royal Albert Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2008
BBCL 4239-2
Duration: 79 minutes



This is Sir Georg Solti’s debut on BBC Legends in a ‘solo’ capacity. His previous appearance was conducting Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 for Shura Cherkassky (BBCL 4160-2). The ‘Eroica’ is as good a place to start, but this performance is rather lightweight at times and lacks the sort of incision and strength that one might have expected from anything that Solti conducted. He was, though, an underestimated conductor of Haydn and Mozart, and his leading of the ‘Eroica’ here nails the work, for all its boundary-breaking qualities, as more Classical than Romantic, more lyrically expressive than revolutionary and impulsive.

The opening does not augur well, the tension set low, and the (two-channel) sound seems slightly flat in terms of pitch, and, initially anyway, of also being over-processed – but such misgivings pass quickly. The LSO is not as possessed of the music as would have been expected when having ‘the screaming skull’ on the podium and there are moments when routine seems to have set in. The first movement is broadly paced and lacks charge; there is a lack of tension, of purpose, the music-making surprisingly ‘relaxed’ if taking on more determination in the development (Solti omits the exposition repeat).

The highlight is the second movement ‘Funeral March’, very broadly paced (close to 18 minutes), undeniably eloquent and well sustained, but not as momentous as such broadness demands. Anthony Camden’s distinctive oboe-timbre is noticeable and while the scherzo is (surprisingly) playful and the finale measured, even cosseted, the performance is inconsistent in terms of inspiration and seems not always well rehearsed. That a powerful musical force is conducting is undeniable; that it didn’t quite come off on the day is also evident. Solti recorded the ‘Eroica’ three times (including twice in Chicago) and he is best represented by the earliest of them, 1959 with the Vienna Philharmonic.

The lack of occasion for the ‘Eroica’ is more than made up for with the Wagner selections; the Covent Garden Orchestra’s playing has a beauty and commitment not always apparent from the LSO five years later, and one senses the Proms audience hanging on every note – a thrilling ‘Rhine Journey’ and a voluble ‘Prelude and Liebestod’, the Royal Albert Hall brimming with drama, Birgit Nilsson detailed and riding the waves. Splendidly tangible stereo sound, too. Maybe the rest of this Wagner Prom – Act Three of “Götterdämmerung” – can also be released?

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