The celebrations continue. Here is another indispensable CD set of Solti from his earlier years, replete with a couple of rarities. Much of this material has been previously available on Decca. Some selections appeared on a 1997 "Double Decca" 2-fer entitled "Ballet Gala", including the Gounod Faust, Gluck Orfeo & Euridice and the Ponchielli Dance of the Hours. Also included here are the two Preludes from La Traviata, which are also available on another Double Decca set (1999) of Solti Overtures.
The rarities on this Eloquence 2-fer are the Rossini overtures to L'italiana in Algeri and Semiramide. Also included is the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann (Offenbach). This was once available on a 1991 budget "Weekend Classics" compilation, entitled "Dance of the Hours- Invitation to the Dance". As that's the only Decca CD on which I can find it having appeared before, let's consider it a rarity as well, just to add to the excitement.
Starting off with a little history...most of this program (all but the Gounod and Gluck) was originally recorded by RCA in 1959 and later repatriated to Decca and released in 1973 on an LP entitled "Venice". This program was released on CD by Classic Records in 1997, with it's original name, "Venice". However, it was a rather difficult listen. The original master tapes suffer from excessive-dynamic tape-saturation distortion, extreme bass drum overload, and grainy string sound. Classic Records specializes in faithfulness to the source and released it in all its raw, flawed glory. And those fortissimo chords in Semaramide are cringe-worthy! Indeed, it's difficult to enjoy much of this one, sitting in anticipation of what is about to explode on the next chord!
Listening to this new release, I am flabbergasted, once again, by the remastering miracles performed by the folks at Eloquence. It is interesting they do not specify their remastering techniques, or give credit to the remastering team. These Rossini overtures are indeed miraculous transformations. Yes, there is still just a hint of overload distortion on those ff chords, but it is greatly ameliorated. Also cleaned up is the overblown, boomy bass drum strokes which accompany them. Oh, the bass drum still packs a wallop, but it no longer distorts and overwhelms the soundfield.
For those unfamiliar with these performances, we finally can enjoy hearing Solti at his finest. The Covent Garden Opera Orchestra (as they were called when this was recorded) is pushed to their limits and clearly enjoy rising to the challenge. No one, and I mean no one, does a crescendo like Solti. This is stunningly demonstrated here in the Semiramide. It is as exciting as it gets. And the Italian in Algiers is as sparkling and fun as I've ever heard it played. The Tales of Hoffmann Barcarolle is gorgeously singing here, the string graininess cleaned up. Perhaps just a bit of the "air" over the sound has been reduced, but that is a small (and acceptable) price to pay. The remaining items contained here sound identical to their previous incarnations on Decca CDs (i.e. they sound excellent).
In sum, let me admit that I wasn't really in the mood for this particular music when I began the CD. Much of it is so commonly heard, that I wanted to move on to something different. But from the moment I pressed play, Solti's rare gift of bringing music to life, infusing it with a rapturous, singing, heartfelt involvement, and his insistence on absolute concentration and precision from his players, I could not turn it off. Nor could I tear myself away from in front of the speakers. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the entire program. Solti had that ability, no matter what he conducted, of drawing the listener into the music. And this disc does just that from beginning to end. It is absolutely glorious and a must for any admirer of gorgeous orchestral playing. And for Solti fans, the rarities are indeed cause for celebration.