Elgar/Kodály/Blacher/Strauss/Tilll

COMPOSERS: Elgar/Kodály/Blacher/Strauss/Till
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Enigma Variations; Variations on a Hungarian Folksong (The Peacock); Variations on a Theme of Paganini; Also sprach Zarathustra; Eulenspiegel; Salome’s Dance
PERFORMER: Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic/Georg Solti
CATALOGUE NO: 452 853-2; 452 603-2

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Half a century on from the start of his Decca relationship, and nearly seventy years after his conducting debut, the physical energy of Georg Solti remains cause for awe. You can hardly miss it – often to the authentic accompaniment of podium thumps – in any of these live performances. It’s there in Zarathustra’s tearaway second fugue, screaming E flat clarinet to the fore, and in the strings’ collective cabaret song of a superhuman waltz; it brings alive Elgar’s door-slamming chum Troyte and his organist colleague’s plunging bulldog; and it informs all the faster variations of compatriot Kodály’s heartfelt tribute to ‘The Peacock’ and Blacher’s more self-consciously interesting one to that Paganini caprice. The Till starts with just about the best phrasing of the horn solo ever, but continues less flexibly than Abbado’s recent triumph with the same orchestra. What’s missing, as it is so often, is an easy sense of line in more expansive moments. Strauss’s poet-philosopher flaps colourfully in mid-air, but never quite takes off in streamlined flight. More seriously, Elgar’s heart and soul never stand a chance until the last two of the introspective variations; and the Vienna strings’ nervy vibrato simply won’t work on broken-backed phrases. In other words, business as usual for Solti; though that still leaves us a great deal to enjoy. David Nice