During the autumn of 1958, Solti conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker for a the first ever complete recording of Das Rheingold (Decca Records). It was acclaimed worldwide, and even made the Billboard Top Ten best-selling albums for a short period in the USA. It is with Wagner that Solti established himself as a recording conductor in Europe and America.
In 1959 Solti made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Der Rosenkavalier, and the offer of the musical directorship soon followed, which Solti took up in 1961. The early years at Covent Garden were not easy for Solti, who faced continuing press hostility, with critics disliking his high levels of nervous energy and in particular his fast tempi, extreme dynamics, and demands for precise articulation. It was only after he had been in post for approximately three years that the critical onslaught began to abate. But in Solti's favour there was his undoubted commitment to raising performance, ans especially orchestral, standards.The Solti of this time is vividly seen in the account of the Overture to Wagner's Flying Dutchman recorded for television in 193.
At the beginning of 1965 Solti initiated a series of new productions at Covent Garden. Magnificent as Solti was as an interpreter of Wagner, it was as a Strauss conductor that he perhaps achieved some of his finest work. Here the pursuit of technical excellence is balanced by a seemingly new and overt appreciation of the expressive nature of the music.
By 1985, the time of the telerecording of the performance of Beethoven's Fifth with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, Solti had been chief conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for seventeen years. By now Solti had few rivals as a conductor in concert and on record. Although he was seventy-three of age at the time of this performance, much of the old fire remained, with a continuing emphasis upon rhythmic tautness, strong dynamic contrasts, and a persistent sense of high drama in performance. That this style was highly effective in performance is plain for all to see and hear from this historic video recording, a fitting tribute to a great conductor.
© David Patmore/ICA
Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1959-1961
London Philharmonic Orchestra