- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: French, English, Spanish, German, Korean
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: C Major
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 30, 2012
- List Price: $39.99
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Film biographies are almost never objective and, when one is dealing with a legendary conductor like Sir Georg Solti (born as Hungarian Gyorgi Stern), objectivity is best checked at the door. Solti: Journey of a Lifetime takes us to the conductor’s rise through the musical ranks of the 1930’s, his being championed by the immortal Arturo Toscanini, and his escape from Hitler’s Anschluss. While the facts are likely to be familiar to classical music fans, Georg Wubbolt’s retelling of the Solti story offers up a wealth of historical detail in the context of the difficult times that the maestro encountered. We get a vast number of personal remembrances from friends, colleagues, critics, historians, and his widow, Lady Valerie Solti. One theme, underscored by nearly all of those interviewed, is the Solti drive to excel, fueled with a boundless energy. In the end, we get a fully dimensional portrait of one of the musical titans of the 20th century, including his womanizing, his uneasy truce with the German musical establishment (his parents, Hungarian Jews, died during World War II), and his towering achievements in the recording studio.
As a major bonus, we get a live 1977 concert recording with Solti’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra that features an all-Russian program: Mussorgsky’s Prelude to “Khovanshchina,” Prokofiev’s delightful “Classical Symphony,” and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1. This is repertory most sympathetic to the Solti style and the lucky audience in attendance must have returned home quite pleased.
Like most historical documents, the video quality varies considerably with some of the sources being decades old. Direct Wubbolt does a masterful job in weaving all of the various threads into a visually satisfying whole, with the present day interviews being crisp and clear. Few conductors of the era or even today had as much sheer physicality, almost balletic, on the podium. Thankfully, we get to see a good bit of this during the film. The CSO concert has a muted color palette and its aspect ratio is stretched from 4:3 to 16:9. That aside, it features good camera work with a number of instrumental close ups highlighting the soloist and, of course, Sir Georg.
Although most of Solti’s career antedated the world of high-resolution sound, the cut-and-paste job on this soundtrack is quite well done and presented in honest-to-God LPCM stereo (with plenty of mono cuts as well). The musical snippets are faithful to their times and we get a real sense of place even if the atmosphere is a bit lacking. The CSO live concert recording has quite decent sound for its era and conveys a taste of Orchestra Hall’s great acoustic.
The Solti/CSO complete concert bonus is alone worth the price of admission as already noted.
The Definitive Word
I was lucky to have attended numerous Solti/CSO concerts during the prime of his tenure in Chicago. There was always palpable excitement in the air and this is particularly well conveyed by the excerpts presented in this film. Critics might have had their differences with the Solti approach to some of standard repertory: his hard-driven Beethoven, his in-your-face Strauss, his fiery Wagner. No matter how one views his art, Solit was never less than engaging as a performer and, on many occasions, uplifting and even inspirational. This film gets it just right and, for that we must thank its creator. An amazing journey indeed, and one well worth the taking.
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