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Royal Albert Hall, August 28, 1989 (Jim Steere photo)

Royal Albert Hall, August 28, 1989 (Jim Steere photo)

On August 28, 1989, in London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sir Georg Solti led the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in its European debut—in Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Soloists included mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, tenor Keith Lewis, bass-baritone José van Dam, and bass Peter Rose.

“I doubt that there will be a better Prom this year,” wrote Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent. “The sheer accuracy of the playing is astounding. . . . The crispness of the rhythms, the ability to switch mood in a phrase, ran throughout the ensemble— and of course when excitement or shock was needed, it sprang out instantly at Solti’s slightest indication, providing marvelous evidence of a long and deep relationship between instruments and conductor in which little needed to be said or shown for everything meant to be instantly understood. . . . And what a chorus the Chicago Symphony has, to comply with Solti’s needs, youthful, beautiful in tone and robust in attack, every word totally clear, understood and stylishly enunciated. Well, Solti’s chorus master is Margaret Hillis—simply the best.”

The Orchestra and Chorus also performed Berlioz’s Faust on August 30 in Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus, and Solti and the Orchestra continued on through Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands before returning to London’s Royal Albert Hall* for the final concert of the tour on September 18.

The August 28 concert was recorded for television broadcast and later released by London Records on video.

Berlioz album

Also for London, Solti conducted the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, tenor Kenneth Riegel, bass-baritone José van Dam, and bass Malcolm King) in recording sessions of The Damnation of Faust in May 1981 at Medinah Temple. The recording was awarded the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Choral.

*The September 18 concert originally had been scheduled for London’s Royal Festival Hall. As a result of a pay dispute earlier that month, there was the prospect of a strike between the unions representing the technicians and box office staff and management at South Bank Centre. The concert was moved to Royal Albert Hall to avoid the possibility of Orchestra musicians crossing picket lines.

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