Georg Was All Fire and Smoking; Boundless Energy ... Georg Solti Was Still Conducting Only Weeks before He Died

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 23, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Georg Was All Fire and Smoking; Boundless Energy ... Georg Solti Was Still Conducting Only Weeks before He Died


Byline: David Mellor

When Sir Georg Solti died ten years ago this month, it was a tribute tohis amazing energy and full engagement book that, although he was 85, his deathcame as a surprise.

Just how focused and alert he was to the very end is evident from a new CD ofhis last concert in Zurich, with the Tonhalle, just seven weeks before he died.While this Mahler 5 lacks some of the urgency so vital in a work often takentoo lugubriously by modern maestros, and to be found in abundance in hisearlier Chicago recording, it is nonetheless most enjoyable, even if the Zurichorchestra's execution, especially the first violins, leaves something to bedesired.

That performance also turns up on a five- CD Decca tribute album, Solti: APassion For Music, where even better evidence is produced that his remarkablepowers never deserted him: it includes his last studio recording, three monthsbefore he died.

Solti was Hungarian and, although proud of his British citizenship and hisknighthood, he remained a committed Magyar. The liberation of his native landgave him particular pleasure, and the recordings of Bartok, Kodaly and histeacher, Leo Weiner, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra are full of thepassion of first love.

Decca, for whom Solti recorded for almost 50 years, has done him proud withthis carefully chosen box. It includes his first-ever recording from 1947,again with the Tonhalle, of Beethoven's Egmont Overture; a typically ebullientreading. Stravinsky and Richard Strauss from Chicago, Wagner from Vienna, andexhilarating extracts from one of his finest discs, a 1966 Russian collectionwith the London Symphony Orchestra, provide more than five hours of pleasure.

It's particularly in familiar music such as the Polovtsian Dances that Solti'srhythmic drive and testosterone-charged virility mark him out from others. Withhim, nothing was ever routine, and although that turbocharged energy, whichearned him the nickname from some orchestral players of

The Screaming Skull, did not work well in everything, it's invariablysuccessful here.

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