Great Performers: Sir Georg Solti
Sir Georg Solti (1912–97) will always be remembered for the 'Ring' cycle he recorded for Decca, a true landmark for both the recording industry and for Wagner performance. And his energised and highly dramatic conducting probably made him as many friends as enemies.Read more…
Born in Hungary as György Stern, Solti would later take his place alongside fellow Hungarians Antal Dorati, George Szell and Fritz Reiner as one of the major conductors to re-energise orchestral playing in the US after the war, thanks to his tenure at the helm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1967–91). But Solti's roots lay in the opera house. It was there that he learned his craft, but not before he'd studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with Béla Bartók, Léo Weiner and Ernö Dohnányi (and he would become a notable, and loyal, interpreter of Bartók's music throughout his career).
His first post was with the Hungarian State Opera. He worked briefly in Karlsruhe but moved back to Budapest when the Nazi threat to Jewish musicians was becoming obvious – there, though, he'd work alongside giants like Otto Klemperer, Fritz Busch and Erich Kleiber. He also worked with Toscanini at the Salzburg Festival, where he heard, he said, singing and playing of real precision for the first time in his life.
After a war spent in Switzerland, Solti was appointed to head the Bavarian State Opera, where he started his association with Richard Strauss, whose music he championed (offering a very different take from that adopted by his major "rival" Herbert von Karajan). He then moved to Frankfurt, further enhancing his reputation as a major opera conductor. When his potential appointment as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was undermined by political machinations by the orchestra's board, Solti accepted the job as music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. His ten years in London started bumpily but saw him he modernis the house's approach, raising standards and morale. Solti tended to record opera in Vienna during this period, so his Covent Garden years are sadly under-represented in the archives.
Solti started his life-long association with Decca in 1946, first as a pianist (partnering Georg Kulenkampff in a Brahms violin sonata) and then as a conductor, becoming one of the label's cornerstones for the remainder of his life. The major works of the Western canon would be embraced over the next four decades, including nearly all the Wagner operas, many of those by Strauss, Mozart and Verdi. He inherited the Chicago SO from Reiner and maintained a powerhouse of orchestral precision and energy, arguably creating one of the most formidably equipped ensembles in North America, and he also led the London Philharmonic from 1979 to 1983. He record extensively with both, embracing the core symphony cycles by Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler and Bruckner. Later he would take an interest in the music of Shostakovich and, in London, the symphonic works of Edward Elgar, proving himself a very fine interpreter of this quintessentially English music. He was also a fine Haydn conductor.
Solti's recorded legacy, embracing over 250 recordings and including 45 compete operas, is impressive. He was a committed champion of younger artists and played a major role in the careers of singers like the mezzo Yvonne Minton, the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, the sopranos Kiri Te Kanawa (with whom he recorded extensively) and Angela Gheorghiu (with whom he performed, and recorded, Verdi's La traviata, a career-changing moment for the singer), not to mention the wonderfully youthful cast for a Magic Flute he recorded late in life.
[Due to geo-blocking restrictions, some tracks might be unavailable in certain territories.]