Beethoven / Symphony No. 5 – Solti

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Classical and Orchestral Masterpieces

  • This big and lively vintage London pressing of Beethoven’s masterpiece boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • Good weight to the brass, huge hall space, wonderfully textured string tone – it’s all here and more
  • A top performance from Georg Solti and the Vienna Phil from 1959 – it’s classic Solti: fast-paced, exciting and powerful
  • This is Beethoven played with gusto – Solti brings this music to life like no other conductor we know of (with the exception of Dorati, perhaps)
  • Watch out for Solti’s later recordings for Decca – they usually have an obvious shortcoming which we cannot abide in our classical recordings

We like our recordings to have as many of the qualities of Live Music as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this, especially when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use. It’s precisely this kind of big, clear, yet rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca/London recordings above those of virtually all other labels, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement with our fellow record loving audiophile friends.

You may have noticed that Beethoven’s symphonies rarely make it to the site. There’s a reason for this: most of the recordings of them don’t sound very good. We are happy to report that, at least when it comes to the Fifth, that problem has been solved, by this very record in fact.

Solti’s Beethoven has always been underrated. In some respects it’s more satisfying than his ventures into the late Romantic repertoire on which his reputation largely rests. His Fifth Symphony, for example, has all of the drama and flair one could ask for in its outer movements, and his treatment of the Third’s epic funeral march is truly gripping, with a hair-raising fugato climax.

— David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

What The Best Sides Of This Wonderful Classical Masterpiece Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

Choices

The Leibowitz from Readers Digest that we also like is tubier and richer, and somewhat more lyrical in performance.

The Solti from 1959 here is cleaner, clearer and both more exacting and lively. I would have a hard time choosing between them.

In our latest shootout (2022), the Ansermet on London (CS 6037) had neither the sound nor the performance that could compete with the best pressings of the Solti. A very good record but not a great one.

The Best Sound

The strings are not as dry as they usually are on this recording, a big problem with London as a rule, but not so here.

The sound is rich, Tubey Magical and very clear, all at the same time. There are recordings that are richer, but none we know of that are more clear as well as rich.

What We’re Listening For On Beethoven’s 5th

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Powerful bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

London Circa 1975

The complete cycle was recorded with Solti and the Chicago Symphony by the Decca/London team, but like so many later Londons — say, those made after 1970 — the sound is opaque and lacking in hall ambience.

If there’s one thing live classical music never is, it’s opaque.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.


Wikipedia

In an essay titled “Beethoven’s Instrumental Music”, E. T. A. Hoffmann further praised the “indescribably profound, magnificent symphony in C minor”:

How this wonderful composition, in a climax that climbs on and on, leads the listener imperiously forward into the spirit world of the infinite!… No doubt the whole rushes like an ingenious rhapsody past many a man, but the soul of each thoughtful listener is assuredly stirred, deeply and intimately, by a feeling that is none other than that unutterable portentous longing, and until the final chord—indeed, even in the moments that follow it—he will be powerless to step out of that wondrous spirit realm where grief and joy embrace him in the form of sound….

Notes on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

by Christopher H. Gibbs

In Beethoven’s Time

The Symphony was premiered later that year together with the Sixth (their numbers in fact reversed) at Beethoven’s famous marathon concert at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on December 22, which also included the first public performance of the Fourth Piano Concerto (the composer was soloist), two movements from the Mass, the concert aria Ah! Perfido, and the “Choral” Fantasy, Op. 80. Reports indicate that all did not go well.

But inadequate performance conditions did not dampen enthusiasm for the Fifth Symphony, which was soon recognized as a masterpiece. The novelist, critic, and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a long and influential review, ushering in a new era in music criticism that hailed “Beethoven’s romanticism … that tears the listener irresistibly away into the wonderful spiritual realm of the infinite.”

A Closer Look

Another reason for the great fame and popularity of this Symphony is that it distills so much of Beethoven’s musical style. One feature is its “organicism,” the fact that all four movements seem to grow from seeds sown in the opening measures. While Beethoven used the distinctive rhythmic figure of three shorts and a long in other works from this time (Tovey remarked that if this indeed represents fate knocking at the door it was also knocking at many other doors), it clearly helps to unify the entire Symphony. After the most familiar of openings (Allegro con brio), the piece modulates to the relative major key and the horns announce the second theme with a fanfare using the “fate rhythm.” The softer, lyrical second theme, first presented by the violins, is inconspicuously accompanied in the lower strings by the rhythm. The movement features Beethoven’s characteristic building of intensity, suspense, a thrilling coda, and also mysteries. Why, for example, does the oboe have a brief unaccompanied solo cadenza near the beginning of the recapitulation. Beethoven’s innovation is not simply that this brief passage may “mean” something, but that listeners are prompted in the first place to ask themselves what it means.

Artist Biography by James Reel

Solti’s interpretations held more than surface excitement. In conducting Beethoven, for example, he long held that the symphonies should be played with all their repeats to maintain their structural integrity, and he carefully rethought his approach to tempo, rhythm, and balance in those works toward the end of his life.

Solti began as a pianist, commencing his studies at age six and making his first public appearance at 12. When he was 13 he enrolled at Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy of Music, studying piano mainly with Dohnányi and, for a very short time, Bartók. He also took composition courses with Kodály.

Although he aspired to be a concert pianist, upon graduating from the academy when he was 18 he took a job as répétiteur at the Budapest Opera. This practical opera experience enabled him to serve as an assistant at the Salzburg Festival to Bruno Walter in 1935 and Arturo Toscanini in 1936 and 1937.

In 1938, he made his own conducting debut — by all accounts a brilliant performance — in a Budapest Opera production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. He was Jewish, and rising anti-Semitism drove him to Switzerland in 1939, where he supported himself mainly as a concert pianist; he couldn’t obtain a labor permit as a conductor. In 1942 he won the Concours International de Piano in Geneva, but it wasn’t until 1944 that he had a serious chance to take up the baton again, in guest appearances with the Swiss Radio Orchestra.

In 1946, the American occupying forces invited Solti to conduct Fidelio at the Bavarian State Opera. Almost immediately Solti was appointed the company’s general music director, a post he held until 1952; in that year he assumed the duties of general music director in Frankfurt, conducting opera productions and symphonic concerts.

He also began making a name for himself in America, through appearances with the San Francisco Opera, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and, in 1960, the Metropolitan Opera. He had made his London Covent Garden debut in 1959, and in 1961 the Royal Opera House engaged him as music director. Solti greatly improved the company’s orchestral standards during his term, which lasted until 1971.

Solti made his most significant contribution during this period on LP, with the first stereo recording (for Decca) of Wagner’s entire Ring cycle, completed in 1966. Even greater acclaim followed him as director of the Chicago Symphony, from 1969 to 1991. Yet Solti spent fairly little time in Chicago; as was becoming the norm, he held major simultaneous posts on two continents.

He was music advisor to the Paris Opera 1971-1973, music director of the Orchestre de Paris 1972-1975 (a group he took to China in 1974), and principal conductor and artistic director of the London Philharmonic 1979-1983. European guest stints included conducting the Bayreuth Festival’s Ring cycle in 1983, marking the 100th anniversary of Wagner’s death.

In 1972 he became a British subject and received his official knighthood; under the circumstances, he also sanctioned the pronunciation of his first name as “George,” although he retained the German spelling.

Solti was regarded as, above all, a superb Wagnerian. His performances and countless recordings of other nineteenth century German and Austrian music were also well-regarded, as were his Verdi and his frequent forays into such twentieth century repertory as Bartók, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky.

An Overview

We sometimes mention the benefits to be gained from regularly listening to classical music. Once a week is a good rule of thumb for playing a recording from the classical world I should think. We all love our rock, jazz, folk and the rest, but there is something about classical music that has the power to restore a certain balance in your musical life that, for whatever reason, cannot be accomplished by other music. Perhaps it grounds your listening experience in something less immediately gratifying, yet deeper and more enriching over time. Once habituated to the effect, the changes in one’s mood are easy to recognize.

Moving Beyond the Average

Of course it should be pointed out that the average classical record is at best a mediocrity and oftentimes a sonic disaster. There are many excellent pressings of rock and jazz, but when it comes to classical music — by its nature so much more difficult to record (and reproduce!) — the choices narrow substantially.

Most of what passed for good classical sound when I was coming up in audio — the DGs, EMIs, Sheffields and other audiophile pressings — are hard to take seriously when played on the modern high quality equipment of today.

We probably audition at least five records for every one we think might pass muster in a future shootout, and we’re pulling only from the labels we know to be good. We wouldn’t even waste our time playing the average Angel, Columbia or DG, or EMI for that matter. The losers vastly outweigh the winners, and there are only so many hours in a day. Who has the time to hunt for so few needles in so many haystacks?

Commitment of Resources

With the above in mind, it should be clear that assembling a top quality classical collection requires much more in the way of resources — money and time — than it would for any other genre of music. We are happy to do some of that work for you — our best classical pressings are amazing in almost every way — potentially saving you a lifetime of work. But we do so at a price; the service we provide is time-consuming to carry out and, as you may have noticed, vintage classical records are not getting any cheaper or easier to find.

On the positive side, every Hot Stamper we sell is 100% guaranteed to satisfy in every way: music, sound, and playing condition. Ideally this means less work for you and more time for listening enjoyment, weekly or more if you can manage to carve it out of your schedule.

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