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Solti - The Making of a Maestro - A Film by Peter Maniura
DVD 1 - Documentary
DVD 2 - Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 (London, September 1978) and Schubert’s Symphony Nos. 6 and 8 (Chicago, December 1979); Bonus addition: Solti introduces Schubert symphonies
DVD 3 - Solti and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich’s Symphony No.9 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 (Munich, 1990)
TV Format NTSC 4:3, 16:9 (documentary); Sound DVD1 PCM Stereo DD5.1, DTS 5.1: DVD2 PCM Stereo; DVD3 DD 2.0: Languages E, D, F, E; Region Code 0 (worldwide); Running Time 93:00 documentary and 169:00 concerts + 8:00 bonus
EUROARTS 2087898 [3 DVDs: 270:00]

Euroarts’ three-DVD set contains a biographical documentary as well as concert footage of Solti conducting the Chicago and the Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestras. The documentary is a film by Peter Maniura made for BBC’s Omnibus, and it, as well as both of the concerts, has previously been released. They are here unified at budget price and were released in this slip-cased edition to mark the 2012 centenary of Solti’s birth.
 
I remember watching the film on Omnibus at the time of its original transmission, indeed recording it on VHS. How many people have plastic storage boxes groaning with archive VHS that they can no longer play and have yet to find a way to transfer to a newer medium? Fortunately, this DVD obviates that problem. Incidentally this biography is not to be confused with that made by Georg Wübbolt released on C-Major 711708, which contained Chicago footage from 1977 of music by Prokofiev (Classical Symphony), Shostakovich (Symphony No.1) and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina Prelude. The Omnibus documentary is the superior of the two, and has rather more by way of depth and immediacy. It takes Solti back to the village of his birth near Lake Balaton, and to his boyhood apartment in Budapest. We are taken to the Liszt Academy where he learned ‘form and phrasing’ and we hear about the irascible but brilliant teaching of Leo Weiner. This, his encounters with Bartók and Kodály and indeed the rest of the material is interspersed with rehearsal footage and talks direct to camera. The famous anointing by Toscanini at Bayreuth in 1937 is naturally mentioned - ‘bene’ said the Italian - as is the fact that he was the first Jew to conduct at the Hungarian State Opera, though his performance on the night of the Anschlüss in Austria was hardly propitious. ‘Don’t come back’ presciently cabled Solti’s mother after he left Hungary. His period in Munich is noted as is the moving film of his acquaintance with Strauss and the composer’s subsequent funeral, for which Solti conducted. The Ring recording rehearsal footage is quite well-known but still indispensable in the context of Solti’s musical life. There is a certain, perhaps necessary amount of biographical telescoping thereafter. Covent Garden, Frankfurt and Chicago are speedily, though not cursorily discussed. There are a number of familiar talking heads, Edward Downes, Andrew Porter, Christopher Raeburn among them, and naturally we hear from Lady Solti. Much of Solti’s dynamism and animal charisma comes across.
 
The second DVD contains Beethoven’s First Symphony, from the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Solti is given a rapturous reception by the Prommers in this September 1978 performance and the Chicago Symphony plays with huge conviction. The documentary makes clear that the Solti years saw the Chicago orchestra touring regularly in a way that contrasted significantly with the Reiner years, when they largely stayed put. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that the touring made them any more of a ‘world-famous orchestra’ than under Reiner - more visible to more people worldwide, certainly. The Schubert Sixth and Eighth Symphonies were taped in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in December 1979. I’m not aware that he recorded the Sixth in the studio. A six-minute bonus introduction to the symphonies is included in which Solti talks about his perception of the music. All three symphonic performances were directed by Humphrey Burton.
 
He is rather more score-bound in the March 1990 performance of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony given with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, though not at the expense of visceral engagement. The most pugilistic examples of his art come at moments of heightened intensity in the third movement of the Pathétique Symphony. To the end, he remained indomitable, and rhythmically alive, like his hero Toscanini. These and many other qualities are documented in the 93-minute biography and in the nearly three hours of concert film and talk.
 
Jonathan Woolf 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 1 ~~ Shostakovich symphony 9 ~~ Tchaikovsky symphony 6