This DVD taken from two live concerts that took place in 1978 are marvelous. Both the sound and sight are excellent even though made thirty years ago, and the Chicago Symphony sounds fabulous. The disc contains three symphonies -- Beethoven's First and Schubert's Sixth and Eighth (the 'Unfinished'). The Beethoven was filmed at a London Proms concert and is notable for the crisp, energized reading Solti leads. One doesn't necessarily associate Solti with music from the Classical Period, but he certainly has the right approach to this most Haydnesque of Beethoven's symphonies. The audience in Royal Albert Hall -- which, by the way, looks to be much younger than the typical classical concert crowd -- is quite boisterous in greeting Solti when he comes onstage and deleriously thrilled at the end of the symphony. I think this performance may be the equal of my previous favorite recording of the work, the one with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Arturo Toscanini: Ludwig Van Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 1,2,3,4 NBC Symphony Orchestra Vol. 1: 2 CD Set. The camera work, directed by the redoubtable Humphrey Burton, is sophisticated, unobtrusive and, to my mind, always right on, not to speak of crystal clear. The sound, which I listened to in PCM Stereo, is a model for its time.
The two Schubert symphonies were recorded in the CSO's home hall, Orchestra Hall, and much the same could be said for both the video and sound, although there is perhaps more sonic warmth in the Chicago performances. Like in the Beethoven First the writing in the Schubert Sixth, the so-called 'Little Symphony in C' (to distinguish it from the Ninth, the 'Great Symphony in C') seems to especially feature the winds of the orchestra and it must be said that at this time in the CSO's history it had possibly the best wind principals anywhere: Donald Peck, flute; Larry Combs, clarinet; Willard Elliott, bassoon, and Ray Still, oboe. They shine. Hearing them any number of times back then in Orchestra Hall provided me with some of my most treasured concert-going memories.
But just as marvelous are the strings whose playing ranges from whispering pianissimi to deep, lush, Stokowskian sweep. One notices that the marvelous Victor Aitay and Samuel Magad alternate in the concertmaster's chair. A young, black-bearded Dale Clevenger is the principal horn. John Bruce Yeh is in the assistant principal clarinet seat, having joined the orchestra only the year before. And of course the indestructible Adolph 'Bud' Herseth is the principal trumpet. What an orchestra this was! And what a set of performances this is.
There is also a brief bonus: eight minutes of Solti talking (in English) about the two Schubert symphonies.