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Solti leading a Verdi Requiem recording session at Medinah Temple in June 1977

Sir Georg Solti twice led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Requiem, with concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall.

April 24 and 26, 1975, at Orchestra Hall (special non-subscription concerts)
April 30, 1975, at Carnegie Hall
Leontyne Price, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

May 31, 1977, at Orchestra Hall (Musicians’ Pension Fund concert)
Leontyne Price, soprano
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

The work was recorded in Medinah Temple on June 1 and 2, 1977.

John Warrack‘s review in Gramophone magazine noted: “Much credit for bringing four strong and distinctive artists into a unified performance, of distinctive character, clearly resides with Solti. Either he now takes a less hectic, more consolatory view of the work, or he has let the quality of his soloists make this the shaping element of the performance. He is fortunate in an outstanding choir and orchestra, and in a recording that encompasses all the vehemence of the ‘Dies irae’ and also the cool sound of the three flutes accompanying Dame Janet’s beautiful singing of the ‘Agnus Dei’, without any sense of a change of perspective.

“There are sections where he has allowed the choir to let vehemence do duty for real emphasis—a case in point is the ‘Te decet hymnus’—and the renewal of the main ‘Dies irae’ theme has a slight note of an automatic return to a sensational moment, rather than a re-intensification of the moment of Judgement.

“But this is a fine performance, and one which can stand beside any which has been recorded. To choose between this and the Giulini performance listed above is not really reasonable: Giulini has qualities which are unique, and close to the heart of the work; Solti has his own qualities, and is favoured with at least two incomparable performances among his soloists. We are fortunate to have both interpretations recorded.”

(Warrack refers to Carlo Maria Giulini‘s 1964 recording of Verdi’s Requiem on Angel with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra. The soloists were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Solti also recorded the Requiem in November 1967 for London Records with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Chorus. Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and Martti Talvela were the soloists.)

Thomas Z. Shepard produced the recording, and Paul Goodman was the engineer for RCA (this was one of the few records Solti made independent of London/Decca). The recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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On August 26, 1971, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra departed for Vienna, embarking on the first leg of the first European tour. On August 29, Solti met the musicians at the Wiener Konzerthaus for their first tour rehearsal together, and the next day—before the Orchestra had performed their first tour concert—they began recording Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony.

There were four recording sessions at the Sofiensaal in Vienna: one each on August 30 and September 1, and two on August 31. (The first concert of the tour was given on September 3 in Edinburgh.)

A page from the Orchestra’s schedule book from August 30, 1971

The all-star cast was as follows:

Heather Harper, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir

Edward Greenfield‘s review in Gramophone magazine raved: “Now at last Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand can be heard on record at something approaching its full, expansive stature. Here is a version from Solti which far more clearly than any previous one conveys the feeling of a great occasion. Just as a great performance, live in the concert-hall, takes off and soars from the very start, so the impact of the great opening on ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ tingles here with electricity. There was something of that charismatic quality in the recording of Bernstein with the LSO, but with superb atmospheric recording and a sense of space more than in rival versions, not to mention playing from the Chicago orchestra that shows up all rivals in precision of ensemble, Solti’s performance sets standards beyond anything we have known before. . . .

Members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir during a recording session

“Solti, characteristically, refuses to accept half measures. This is as near a live performance as the dynamic Solti can make it. At times the sheer physical impact makes one gasp for breath, and I found myself at the thunderous end of the first movement shouting out in joyous sympathy, so overwhelming is the build-up of tension. Maybe this is not a record which one will be able to cope with emotionally in frequent repetition, but to my mind it justifies Mahler’s great scheme in emotional as well as intellectual terms to a degree unknown on record before . . . No doubt one day the achievement of this first really great recording of Mahler’s Eighth will be surpassed, but in the meantime I can only urge all Mahlerians—and others too—to share the great experience which Solti and his collaborators offer.”

Solti with concertmaster Sidney Weiss

David Harvey produced the recording, and Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1972 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical, Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording—Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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John Culshaw‘s book Ring Resounding begins with: “In Vienna, on the afternoon of September 24, 1958, Decca began the first commercial recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen; seven years later, on the evening of November 19, 1965, every note and every word of Wagner’s huge masterpiece had been recorded. Nothing comparable in scope, cost, or artistic and technical challenge had been attempted in the history of the gramophone.”

Georg Solti led the Vienna Philharmonic and an unbelievable cast of singers in sessions at the Sofiensaal. The recordings, released and remastered numerous times, have never been out of print, and according to a recent issue of BBC Music Magazine, the cycle still ranks as the greatest recording of all time.

The recording of Die Walküre won the 1966 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. And for their unprecedented achievement, Solti and Culshaw received the Recording Academy’s first Grammy Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” to the art of recording.

The casts:

Das Rheingold
Wotan George London, bass-baritone
Donner Eberhard Wächter, baritone
Froh Waldemar Kmentt, tenor
Loge Set Svanholm, tenor
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone
Mime Paul Kuen, tenor
Fasolt Walter Kreppel, bass
Fafner Kurt Böhme, bass
Fricka Kirsten Flagstad, soprano
Freia Claire Watson, soprano
Erda Jean Madeira, mezzo-soprano
Woglinde Oda Balsborg, soprano
Wellgunde Hetty Plümacher, mezzo-soprano
Flosshilde Ira Malaniuk, contralto
Recorded September 24 – October 8, 1958

Die Walküre
Siegmund James King, tenor
Sieglinde Régine Crespin, soprano
Wotan Hans Hotter, bass-baritone
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson, soprano
Hunding Gottlob Frick, bass
Fricka Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Gerhilde Vera Schlosser, soprano
Ortlinde Helga Dernesch, mezzo-soprano
Waltraute Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo-soprano
Schwertleite Helen Watts, contralto
Helmwige Berit Lindholm, soprano
Siegrune Vera Little, contralto
Grimgerde Marilyn Tyler, soprano
Rossweisse Claudia Hellmann, contralto
Recorded October 29 – November 19, 1965

Siegfried
Siegfried Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor
Mime Gerhard Stolze, tenor
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson, soprano
Wanderer (Wotan) Hans Hotter, bass-baritone
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone
Fafner Kurt Böhme, bass
Erda Marga Höffgen, contralto
Waldvogel Joan Sutherland, soprano
Recorded May 8 – November 5, 1962

Götterdämmerung
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson, soprano
Siegfried Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor
Waltraute Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Gunther Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
Gutrune Claire Watson, soprano
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone
Hagen Gottlob Frick, bass
First Norn Helen Watts, contralto
Second Norn Grace Hoffman, mezzo-soprano
Third Norn Anita Välkki, soprano
Woglinde Lucia Popp, soprano
Wellgunde Gwyneth Jones, soprano
Flosshilde Maureen Guy, mezzo-soprano
Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wilhelm Pitz, chorus master
Recorded May 20 – November 24, 1964

During sessions for Götterdämmerung in the fall of 1964, Humphrey Burton filmed a now classic documentary, The Golden Ring, for the BBC. A few amazing clips from that program are below.



The attached YouTube videos are not the property of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. We just thought they were interesting.

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