October 21, 2012 marks Sir Georg Soltis centenary and Decca is celebrating this with several important reissues.
Sir Georg was an exclusive Decca artist for 50 years. In 1947 he signed his first contract with Decca - as a pianist and that same year he made his first record as a conductor (with the Zurich Tonhalle in Beethovens Egmont Overture). His last public concerts took place just a few weeks before his death in 1997 and were with the Zurich Tonhalle.
The discography of Strauss’s last opera is not exactly crowded, but the two existing accounts provide formidable competition for any newcomer. First there was Sawallisch, conducting the Philharmonia for EMI in 1957 (unfortunately in mono) and a cast led by Schwarzkopf, Ludwig and Fischer-Dieskau. Then, in 1971, came that other supreme Straussian, Karl Böhm, with Janowitz, Troyanos and (again) Fischer-Dieskau, recorded in Munich for DG. The new Decca set brings together many of today’s leading exponents of Strauss’s roles, dominated, for me, by the unsurpassed Clairon of Brigitte Fassbaender, now alas, never to be heard on stage again following her retirement. Heilmann and Bär make an ardent pair of rival suitors, Hagegård an admirable Count and Halem a sonorous, characterful La Roche. (There is a delightful link with the past history of the opera in the person of Hans Hotter: he sang Olivier in the 1942 premiere, La Roche in the 1957 Sawallisch set, and here, at 84 when recorded in December 1993, a one-line cameo as a servant.) For many, though, the set’s desirability will rest on Te Kanawa’s Countess.