Maestro or Mephisto: The Real Georg Solti

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Arthuas Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Maestro or Mephisto: The Real Georg Solti
WORKS: Maestro or Mephisto: The Real Georg Solti
PERFORMER: A film by Andy King-Dabbs
CATALOGUE NO: 101662

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Sir Georg Solti exuded such indefatigable energy that he seemed likely to live to celebrate his 100th birthday, still conducting. Instead, Andy King-Dabbs chronicles a life that created the first complete studio recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle – and many more Grammy awards than any other artist. We follow him through his Hungarian education, under giants like Bartók, Kodály, Dohnányi, his time as Toscanini’s repetiteur at Salzburg and his bleak Swiss exile. We see his early struggles and increasing success in Munich, Frankfurt and Covent Garden, and then how he finds home and family in Britain, and find out about his triumphant recordings, and the Chicago Symphony. Throughout, Solti himself emerges with screen-crackling vigour, both justifying and rubbishing the title Maestro or Mephisto. True, those vulpine features and glittering eyes do suggest the Demon King; and punches aren’t pulled – his hard-driven, perfectionist methods, his flirting. But we also see his self-mocking twinkle and warmth, more human than rival giants like the arid Karl Böhm and the sardonic, Olympian Herbert von Karajan; and his intense love of family. Only hinted at is his extraordinary kindness to young artists, his readiness to take risks with them.

And such celebrations often conceal tacit reassessments. Solti’s stature, once hotly debated, is now taken as read, and the negative voices quoted sound remarkably peevish; one player whinges comically about having to produce ‘un-English’ sounds. Goethe’s Mephisto was ‘the spirit which always denies’; Solti embodied the positive.

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Michael Scott Rohan