Magazine article Gramophone

Classics RECONSIDERED: Peter Quantrill and David Gutman Discuss Sir Georg Solti's Groundbreaking 1971 Recording of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand

Magazine article Gramophone

Classics RECONSIDERED: Peter Quantrill and David Gutman Discuss Sir Georg Solti's Groundbreaking 1971 Recording of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand

Article excerpt


Symphony No 8

Sols; Vienna State Op Chor; Wiener Sing verein; Vienna Boys' Ch; Chicago SO / Sir Georg Solti

Decca (M) 475 7521

At last Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand can be heard on record at something approaching its full, expansive stature. Here is a version from Solti which far more clearly than any previous one conveys the feeling of a great occasion. Just as a great performance, live in the concert-hall, takes off and soars from the very start, so the impact of the great opening on 'Veni Creator Spiritus' tingles here with electricity. With superb atmospheric recording and a sense of space more than in rival versions, not to mention playing from the Chicago orchestra that shows up all rivals in precision of ensemble, Solti's performance sets standards beyond anything we have known before. This is as near a live performance as the dynamic Solti can make it. At times the sheer physical impact makes one gasp for breath, and I found myself at the thunderous end of the first movement shouting out in joyous sympathy, so overwhelming is the build-up of tension. Decca's lavishness in selecting a roster of soloists unlikely to be rivalled has paid off. There is not a weak link, and though Rene Kollo in the principal tenor role occasionally ignores his pianissimos he easily outstrips his rivals, with a big Heldentenor sound used intelligently. My one doubt is whether such fine singers needed balancing so far forward. My preference would have been for the choruses to be brought a little more forward, the soloists a little farther back, but as it is I prefer the Decca balance to that of rivals, which also favour the soloists for the sake of clarity. Edward Greenfield (10/72)

Peter Quantrill This was welcomed at the time for stimulating the adrenalin rush of a live experience (then even rarer than it is now, in our age of Mahler plenitude and possibly surfeit). Yet it's the losses and gains of a studio-manufactured account that make themselves obvious from the outset: in the undeniably impressive but crudely bolted-on organ entry (probably more obvious on the latest remasterings than on the original LPs), the muscular contribution of the chorus, with every sinew strained and separated, and the huge stretch and relaxation into the soloists' first entry, more daringly languorous than Bernstein ever attempted or achieved, and flying in the face of Mahler's injunction to keep up the pace. I wonder how much experience Solti had of conducting the piece in concert when he went into the Sofiensaal? And whether such experience matters?

David Gutman I wondered that too, in that the performance's strengths are somehow not specifically Mahlerian. In his autobiography Solti remarks that he conducted Mahler's Seventh Symphony less often than the rest without saying how much experience he had with the Eighth. He does say: 'For the conductor, most of the problems in this symphony stem from its massiveness. In a sense, the Eighth is a vast opera whose visual aspect remains in the imagination. Opera conductors have a tremendous advantage in conducting this and other big choral-orchestral works.' He certainly co-ordinates his forces with rigour, much as he must have done at Covent Garden! I suppose part of the difficulty is sonic--when the LPs appeared they did seem to set new standards. But even ignoring issues with the manipulated recorded sound, there are live recordings from the same era which project the score in less hectic fashion. Greenfield would not have been able to refer to Jascha Horenstein's live 1959 London account, but, thanks to BBC Legends and, now, Pristine Audio, we can. And Horenstein had 755 performers, whereas modern rivals tend to make do with 300 or so. The Solti I assume comes somewhere in between? The impact is certainly big.

PQ And 'operatic'--if by that term we mean the kind of full-throttle singing and wild swings of pace that characterise Solti's Wagner. …

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