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Dave Saemann
Fanfare, November 2011

This is one of the great Elgar interpretations, filled with drama, color, and heart. Even though the 1979 Enigma Variations that comes with it is somewhat more pedestrian, the symphony commands the Elgarian’s attention.

Lawrence Hansen
American Record Guide, September 2011

One has to be impressed by the quality of the old material ICA has trawled up from the depths of the BBC archives. The Solti Elgar program is a particular find…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, August 2011

A bracing pair of Elgar performances deservedly rescued from the archives

Between 1972 and 1980, Sir Georg Solti set down a number of hugely stimulating Elgar recordings for Decca; indeed, his dynamic yet wonderfully humane versions of the two symphonies (modelled to a large degree on the composer’s electrifying interpretations) can still hold their own against all comers nearly four decades on.

ICA Classics’ enterprising restoration of two performances with the LPO from the Royal Festival Hall (both originally broadcast on BBC2) is especially valuable for what is surely Solti’s most successful reading of the Enigma Variations. This finds the maestro on infinitely more involving form than on either of his commercial recordings (the live VPO remake from 1996 is, on the whole, preferable to the worryingly slick 1974 studio version with the Chicago SO). “Nimrod” in particular is paced to flowing perfection, while the explosive virtuosity of “WMB”, “Troyte” and “GRS” is most satisfyingly counterbalanced by the fragant poetry and winsome delicacy of “Ysobel”, “WN” and “Dorabella”.

The February 1975 performance of the Second Symphony immediately preceded the Decca sessions in Kingsway Hall. It is, quite simply, a document to treasure, with the LPO (as on the commercial recording) galvanised to thrilling effect by Solti’s prodigiously energetic presence on the podium (one wouldn’t want to be on the end of one of his whiplash left-arm jabs). Not surprisingly, perhaps, there’s an extra edge-of-seat volatility and expressive freedom on show, the secondary material in both the first movement and Scherzo shaped with generous flexibility by a conductor who is clearly in love with the music. Otherwise, both accounts exhibit the same thrustingly purposeful manner, with the slow movement attaining even greater levels of noble intensity and rapt concentration than in the studio. The epilogue is profoundly moving in its valedictory radiance and burnished glow.

Both the picture quality and full-blooded (mono) sound are perfectly acceptable (though principal viola player Rusen Günes’s contribution in “Dorabella” would have benefited from a rather less shy balance). The direction, too, is mercifully undistracting throughout. Most rewarding—and a genuine tonic to boot!

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, April 2011

ICA have done well—and valiantly—to show us what all the fuss was about with Solti’s LPO Elgar in the 1970s.

They say this is the first time these televised live concert performances have been released on DVD. Were they ever released on videocassette or any other video format—I think not. Solti’s stereo analogue reading of Elgar 2 is known from the Decca LP and cassette recording of the time complete with its iconic sleeve design. It has been much reissued. I saw and still remember the 1975 broadcast under review, believe it or not—on a small black and white TV; it was electrifying even then. Now it has a new breadth and visual zest. It’s an added dimension that really adds usefully to the musical-emotional experience. As for Enigma, Solti’s Decca audio version was with his long-time collaborators, the Chicago Symphony. This DVD allows us to hear him in company with the LPO also at London’s Royal Festival Hall. This venue is splendid in its natural light-wood-appointed walls and floors and with an audience present. There is the odd cough—as at 3.31 in the first movement of the Symphony but nothing really untoward. Neither of these works were filmed in high-definition—unthought of at the time—but the picture is stable and makes for more than acceptable viewing. The Second Symphony is in agreeably clear colour—slightly bleached by comparison with the marginally warmer picture for the 1979 Enigma.

The iconoclastic and passionate Solti flies at the symphony like a Fury. His vitality is mirrored by his athletic podium style with stabbing extravagant gestures that yet stop short of Bernstein’s exuberance. He has the LPO playing at the extreme end of their technical compass. The music exhales breathless excitement especially in I and III with phrases almost, but not quite, falling over each other. This is not thin-lipped Elgar nor is it stiff-upper-lipped. The music goes with a whoop and a sob—Tchaikovskian even. Solti shows absolute identification with the music in his manner and sweeping movements. In the quieter sections he finds time and space for the philosophically reflective. In the finale at 46:33 that stomped out syncopation over wondrously viscous French horns with their mountain-high heroic melody is truly exhilarating.

Enigma comes from an RFH concert four years later and benefits from a warmer bloom to the picture. Again Solti is remarkable for his liberal doses of accelerant and torque. Listen to the skittishly Mendelssohnian Dorabella. WMB, Troyte and GRS are reminiscent of Beecham’s Elgar—not to be dismissed. Solti finds the pulse and keeps it racing. This is not to say that he has no repose as we can hear in WN – another peaceably pastoral kingdom. Nimrod is hushed yet the forward momentum is always present. In the Dorabella viola solo the camera is in the right place but the microphones only lightly pick up the instrument’s sound. The finale ends in a blaze.

The mind implies sumptuous in both cases yet the sound, while being as good as it can be and reporting tiers of detail and emotional punch, is good/competent rather than refulgent.

The broadcast direction for the Symphony has little in the way of zooming in on particular players or benches. It favours the broad view, looking down on the conductor or viewing the span of the orchestra from behind the podium. Enigma indulges the zoomed detailing a little more but not fussily so.

The booklet notes are in English, French and German.

This is a very welcome chance to find out what all the fuss was about with Solti’s headlong passionate Elgar. Pity there was no televised In The South!

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