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Georg Solti’s fifty-year affiliation as a recording artist with the London/Decca company began in 1947.

Georg Kulenkampff

In his Memoirs, Solti wrote: “The story of my career as a recording artist begins in about 1945, when Max Lichtegg, a singer I had worked with in Zurich, introduced me to his friend Moritz Rosengarten, the head of Decca Records in Switzerland. A brief meeting took place at Rosengarten’s modest office in Badenerstrasse; I said that I would very much like to make some recordings, but at first nothing happened. Then, on January 29, 1947, during a visit to Zurich in the middle of my first Munich [Opera] season, I signed a Decca contract that called for me to record Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, and, as a pianist, three Brahms sonatas, the Mozart sonata in B-flat, as well as Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with the splendid violinist Georg Kulenkampff—a German who had fled to Switzerland late in the war. I was to be paid thirty pounds, or five hundred Swiss francs, for each of the three sessions, and the contract was valid until the end of 1948. . . . I still played the piano well then, and I took naturally to the recording process; I was not nervous and the recordings were successful.”

Kulenkampff and Solti recorded Brahms’s G major sonata, op. 78 in February 1947; and Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, op. 47 in June 1947. They completed the Brahms sonatas in July 1948: the A major sonata, op. 100 and D minor sonata, op. 108. Sadly, this would be their only collaboration; Kulenkampff died on October 4, 1948, after a brief illness. He was only 50.

Several of Solti’s first recordings—both as a pianist and conductor—were recently re-released on Decca’s Original Masters series, and in the liner notes, Jeremy Siepmann wrote: “Nowhere in the present set can Solti’s exceptional abilities as a listener be heard more clearly than in his collaborations with Kulenkampff. Here his accomplishments as a repetiteur and his instincts as a soloist combine in perfect harmony. He is discreet but never excessively deferential in accompanimental passages, and bold but never obtrusive when the piano assumes a soloistic or quasi-orchestral prominence . . . These recordings were made in the days when it was still standard practice to favor the violin acoustically, perpetuating the invidious idea of the pianist as mere ‘accompanist.’ Yet through the very quality of his tone and the impeccable judgement of his rhythm, Solti redresses the balance despite being somewhat ‘recessed’ by producer and engineer.”

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