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The work most closely identified with Sir Georg Solti’s tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra would arguably be Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

During his final season as music director, Solti and the Orchestra recorded Mahler’s Fifth a second time for London Records. The work was recorded live in concert at the Musikverein in Vienna on November 30, 1990, during the Orchestra’s tour to Russia, Hungary, and Austria.

For London, Michael Haas was the producer, Stanley Goodall was the engineer, and Matthew Hutchinson was the tape editor.

In his Memoirs, Solti wrote: “it was Mahler’s Fifth which I shall always associate with the Chicago Symphony. It was part of our first tour program together, to Carnegie Hall in New York [in January 1970]. We went with a certain trepidation, not knowing how New Yorkers would receive us, as we were still an unknown quantity. When we finished the last movement, the audience stood up and screamed hysterically as if it were a rock concert. The applause seemed endless; they had fallen under the spell of our exceptional performance. I had never experienced such an overwhelming phenomenon in my life and probably never will again.” (Shortly after the concert in New York, the symphony was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple in March 1970.)

In the second edition of Paul Robinson’s Solti, the author stated: “In November 1990, Solti and the CSO toured Europe to great acclaim. In Vienna their program included the Mahler Fifth and the Decca engineers were there to record the event for posterity. It turned out to be an even finer recording than the one they had made in Chicago twenty years before. The virtuosity is on the same high level but there is a depth of feeling, particularly in the Adagietto, that is quite striking. The sound quality is also remarkable, taking advantage of the latest in digital technology. There are numerous subtleties of soft playing only hinted at in the earlier recording. One of Mahler’s most original touches of orchestration is the use of a tam-tam in the second movement. It is marked piano and in most recordings it is simply not audible. But in this one it has an altogether distinctive presence that colors the whole texture of the music. Wonderful! There are times when one misses the expansiveness of expression that is so moving in the [Leonard] Bernstein or [Herbert von] Karajan recordings, but this is nonetheless one of [the] best documentations of Solti and the CSO in their prime together.”

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In 1967, Viking Press published John Culshaw‘s book, Ring Resounding, a detailed account of the first complete studio recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Solti was the conductor for those recordings, made in Vienna between 1958 and 1965 with an all-star cast of singers and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Rand McNally & Company published a coffee table book in 1974 with text by Chicago Tribune music critic Thomas Willis and photographs by Robert M. Lightfoot III. The book was titled simply The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and included images of rehearsals, performances, and recording sessions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in tour venues.

Also in 1974, MacMillan published William Barry Furlong‘s Season with Solti. Intended to give a backstage view of how the Chicago Symphony Orchestra operated during a single season, the book included first-hand accounts from numerous members of the Orchestra.

Paul Robinson’s Solti was published in 1979 by Lester and Orpen Limited. It was the third in their Art of the Conductor series, following books on Herbert von Karajan and Leopold Stokowski, also by Robinson.

And, of course, there’s Sir Georg Solti’s Memoirs with assistance from Harvey Sachs. (My well-worn copy is pictured to the right.) It was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1997. The afterword—by Valerie, Gabrielle, and Claudia Solti, to whom Solti had dedicated the book—says it all: “Our beloved Gyrui and Papa died, unexpectedly, in the South of France on Friday, September 5, 1997. Only hours before, he had completed the final corrections to this book. We hope it will give an insight into the most rare and wonderful of human beings, who enriched and blessed our lives beyond any words. No family could have had a more loving, generous, and wise husband and father.”

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Theodore Thomas

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