A classic Solti recording of two Bartok works, on a remastered vinyl.

BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra; Dance Suite – London Sym. Orch./ Sir Georg Solti – Decca 4788558, 70 min. vinyl (3/6/15) ***(*):  

When Solti’s Concerto for Orchestra with the LSO was released in 1965, it set standards in sound and performance that lasted for the rest of the decade. It was a brilliant statement of Decca’s commitment to doing for the music, and by extension the conductor, the orchestra and the recording company, what Stokowski had done for classical music in Fantasia – without the color animation. It was just the musicians, Bartok and your loudspeakers, and the effect was explosive, one of London’s crack orchestras showing what it could for the superstar Solti; the fact that he was Hungarian, like Bartok, made the project all the sweeter, and automatically more authentic.

The competition against which Solti scored this huge success was formidable. Fritz Reiner’s 1956 Chicago Symphony still was beloved of American audiophiles, and Solti’s passionate approach and razor-sharp execution was for some “Reiner with heart.”

The main contenders on the European side were Ferenc Fricsay’s 1957 taping with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, also an audiophile stunner; Rafael Kubelik’s recording for EMI two years later with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Karel Ancerl’s with the Czech Philharmonic in 1963 for Supraphon; all were on a higher plane than Solti, less sensational definitely but, especially in retrospect (all three were available only in dismal pressings in those days), vastly more musical – and in the case of the splendid Kubelik, with its large soundstage and rich acoustical ambience, sonically superior.

Still, Solti and the LSO provide in both the Concerto and the Dance Suite relentlessly visceral thrills laced with instrumental poetry and virtuosity; the recording which, on a Tri-Planar-Bentz-Wilson system, flirts dangerously with the boundary between dynamic transparency and stridency, sounding more digital than analogue at times. The release is handsomely presented, with the original artwork and pressed by optimal GmbH on 180 gm vinyl stock, the new lacquers for this release mastered and cut from the original Decca analogue tapes at Abbey Road Studios by Sean Magee.

Throw in the original LP cover, which perfectly mirrors the lines and splash of Solti’s performances, and Margaret Bent’s businesslike liner notes, and you’re back in the mid ‘60s when the next disc on the turntable for me would have been the Beatles.

—Laurence Vittes