October 21 marked the centenary of the birth of Sir Georg Solti, who, for the last 50 years of his life, recorded exclusively for Decca. (He died on September 5, 1997.) Here in the United States he is probably best known for his 22-year tenure as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Equally important, however, was that, before accepting the Chicago position, he had a ten-year career as Music Director of the Covent Garden Opera Company, during which time he worked with just about every major vocalist of the Sixties.
As might be imagined, Decca is celebrating this centennial year in a big way. On October 30 they reissued Solti’s historical recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen as a “Deluxe Edition.” Recorded between September of 1958 and November of 1965, this was not the first complete recorded Ring; but it was the first to exploit the advanced techniques of audio recording, including the creation of spatial effects for stereophonic playback. The entire project was supervised by John Culshaw, who documented it in the book Ring Resounding, as well as the documentary film The Golden Ring, both of which are included in the Deluxe Edition, along with an extended analysis of Wagner’s vocabulary of music motifs delivered with the rich support of audio examples, by Deryck Cooke.
In addition, on October 16, Decca released five box sets, one of which is devoted entirely to the music of Béla Bartók, while each of the other four provides the survey of complete opera performances by a single composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Strauss, Giuseppe Verdi, and Richard Wagner. On the video side, Decca released on November 19 a DVD of a December 1994 performance of Verdi’s La Traviata at Covent Garden, featuring Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta. This was be packaged with a two-CD audio recording of the same performance. Next month will see a DVD of the performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte given at the 1991 Salzburg Festival, currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.
For those interested in a broader overview of Solti’s work, on December 4 Decca will release Solti: The Legacy 1937–1997, also currently available for pre-order form Amazon.com. This is a two-CD collection that samples the full scope of Solti’s association with Decca, beginning with his serving as accompanist for tenor Max Lichtegg (June 25, 1947) and extending to a studio recording of Gheorghiu singing “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s La forza del destino, made with the London Symphony Orchestra in January of 1997. The reference in the title to 1937 involves a recording of “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s Zauberflöte made at the 1937 Salzburg Festival. On this occasion Solti provided the glockenspiel accompaniment for Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender’s Papageno in a production conducted by Arturo Toscanini.
This is the sort of abundantly diverse compilation for which different listeners are bound to have different favorites. Without in any way suggesting that I prefer quantity to quality, I have to declare my own favorite to be the longest track in the set. This is the final scene from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, beginning with the ravishing trio that brings The Marschallin (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf) together with her young lover Octavian (Sena Jurinac) and the much younger Sophie (Hanny Steffek), who has stolen his heart. The track continues all the way to the orchestral conclusion for the mime scene of the Marschallin’s Indian servant boy, and there is not a faulty moment in the entire episode. The recording was made at a Covent Garden performance on December 17, 1959; and it reminds us all of why Schwarzkopf’s reputation is as strong today as it ever was.
By the same count, I suspect that anyone who has enjoyed Solti’s many recordings will feel that some favorite item is missing. For my part that would mean the absence of any recognition of Solti’s approach to Gustav Mahler. Bearing in mind how seldom Mahler worked on a relatively short durational scale, I would say that the Adagietto movement from the fifth symphony would have been the perfect choice. If this meant giving up the performance of Mozart’s K. 365 concerto for two pianos (with Solti and Murray Perahia) in its entirely, I could have lived with a bit less Mozart in preference to some Mahler!
Nevertheless, this is such a minor cavil that it will never interfere with my enjoyment of this collection as it will be released.