Discussion:
Karajan vs. Solti
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REP
2018-06-14 16:44:53 UTC
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I'm just now listening to Karajan's Ring for the first time after years of primarily listening to the Solti. I still have a ways to go, but after finishing Die Walkure last night, I think I've heard enough to say -- they're not that different. Karajan's approach is so similar to Solti's that I can't fathom where the "Chamber Wagner" pejorative came from.

Do the differences come out more in the later operas, or am I missing something?

REP
m***@gmail.com
2018-06-14 23:17:36 UTC
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Post by REP
I'm just now listening to Karajan's Ring for the first time after years of primarily listening to the Solti. I still have a ways to go, but after finishing Die Walkure last night, I think I've heard enough to say -- they're not that different. Karajan's approach is so similar to Solti's that I can't fathom where the "Chamber Wagner" pejorative came from.
Do the differences come out more in the later operas, or am I missing something?
REP
Comparing the two Walkures (for me the strongest segment of the Karajan Ring) Solti tends to highlight emotional and musical elements where Karajan esp in the last two acts tends to look at the whole picture downplaying individual moments in exchange for the long view (This all a big generalization of course) Both orchestras are wonderful and totally responsive to the wishes of the respective conductors. I think the chamber music approach idea for Karajan was a bit overblown, certainly by the time he got to Gotterdammerung it was pretty much large scale. I enjoy going back to the Karajan from time to time for the real beauty of the orchestral playing (the first scene of Rheingold and prelude to Gotterdammerung just float) but you gotta have the voices for this music and here for me the scales tip towards Solti
REP
2018-06-14 23:42:28 UTC
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Post by REP
I'm just now listening to Karajan's Ring for the first time after years of primarily listening to the Solti. I still have a ways to go, but after finishing Die Walkure last night, I think I've heard enough to say -- they're not that different. Karajan's approach is so similar to Solti's that I can't fathom where the "Chamber Wagner" pejorative came from.
Do the differences come out more in the later operas, or am I missing something?
REP
Comparing the two Walkures (for me the strongest segment of the Karajan Ring) Solti tends to highlight emotional and musical elements where Karajan esp in the last two acts tends to look at the whole picture downplaying individual moments in exchange for the long view (This all a big generalization of course) Both orchestras are wonderful and totally responsive to the wishes of the respective conductors. I think the chamber music approach idea for Karajan was a bit overblown, certainly by the time he got to Gotterdammerung it was pretty much large scale. I enjoy going back to the Karajan from time to time for the real beauty of the orchestral playing (the first scene of Rheingold and prelude to Gotterdammerung just float) but you gotta have the voices for this music and here for me the scales tip towards Solti
I agree about the first scene of Rheingold: Karajan is the clear winner there. The orchestral colors are just so well blended, perfectly fitting the aquatic setting. And his Walkure is definitely very strong, but that has more to do with the singers than the conducting for me.

But to elaborate on my original post, I've always heard that the Solti and Karajan Rings were polar opposites, so I was expecting to feel a little jostled by the experience. I've had big shocks like that before going from one familiar recording to a new one (the Krauss Dutchman to the Solti, for example), but that wasn't the case here. So far, the Karajan Ring feels like the same old familiar Ring I'm used to, just with different singers.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-06-16 15:01:20 UTC
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...Ring I'm used to, just with different singers.
REP
Karajan once said, re the chamber music comment, that his secret was that he could make the massive string forces play with such precision that they could achieve real pianissimo. There was more to it than that, though. His emphasis was always on sheer beauty of sound; he uses more fluency than Solti, and is less explosive on dramatic moments -- only slightly, but it has a cumulative effect. He tended to cast lighter voices, and make heavier ones, like Jon Vickers for example, stress the lyricism, even to the point of crooning -- compare Vickers' Siegmund for Leinsdorf. In those circumstances, in the theatre, I believe Karajan tended to keep the volume down somewhat; on recording that could be adjusted, although not always successfully, as with the somewhat inaudible Jess Thomas in Siegfried. Likewise, compare Karl Ridderbuch's Fafner, who really is the "beautiful dragon" that Kurt Bohme wanted to be, and his smooth Hagen alongside Gottlob Frick's snarling tones.

That, I think, is the origin of the chamber-music comment. It had also been levelled at Rudolf Kempe before him, in contrast to the huge and weighty approach of Knappertsbusch, Furtwangler and the like, with whom Karajan's priorities also differed. What did cement the chamber-music verdict, and I think deservedly so, wasn't the Ring at all, but the appearance a few years later of his Dresden Meistersinger.

As regards Solti, one has to remember that in those days, for most people, there was only the Solti Ring. Even individual operas, like Furtwangler's and Leinsdorf's Walkure, were hard to find or withdrawn. When Karajan came along the contrast, especially with his singers -- casting Fischer-Dieskau as Wotan, for example -- seemed enormous. Also, Solti was very unpopular in some quarters, evoking mutterings of vulgarity and sometimes anti-semitism -- his car was vandalised at Covent Garden, among much else. One minor British composer/critic, who despised Karajan, hailed the arrival of the DG Ring simply because it wasn't Solti, and that not uncommon attitude tended to play up the differences between them -- no nasty sound effects, for example. But now we have so many different performances that the similarities are, I agree, much more apparent than the contrasts.

Cheers,

Mike

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