"THE GOLDEN RING"
The 1965 BBC film of Sir Georg Solti recording Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3196 TT: 88 min + 69 min. audio highlights
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ROSSINI: Overtures to The Barber of Seville, The Italian Woman in Algiers. La scala di seta. The Siege of Corinth. Semiramide. The Thieving Magpie. MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 "Scottish." Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 35 (with Kyung Wha Chung). Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 90 "Italian." BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 6 in A. Symphony No. 7 in E. WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman Overture. Tannhäuser Overture. Prelude to Die Meistersinger. Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28. Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. Four Last Songs (with Lucia Popp). KODALY: Háry János Suite, Op. 35a. BARTÓK: Romanian Folk Dances. WEINER: Introduction and Scherzo. BERLIOZ: Hungarian March from The Damnation of Faust. BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92. Bonus: Solti rehearsing the Vienna Philharmonic in Kodály, Weiner, Beethoven and Berlioz
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3203 (4 disks) TT: 158 + 144 + 122 + 121 min.
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"ORCHESTRA!"
TV series with Dudley Moore, Sir Georg Solti and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra
DECCA DVD VIDEO 074 3198 TT: 250 min (DVDs) 75 min (CD)
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The Golden Ring is a famous BBC film made in 1965 about the Decca recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. It includes interviews with producer John Culshaw and excerpts from recording sessions in Vienna's Sofiensal. It's a pleasure to watch dynamic Solti working with the great Vienna Philharmonic, and their vivid response to his direction. This was a stereo sound-stage production and we can see assistants moving microphones (and singers) to get the proper aural picture. And there is that famous scene where a live horse is brought into the "studio" while Birgit Nilsson is recording the Immolation Scene. It's all informative and entertaining. Also included is the ORF German language production of the same program that includes some different interviews with the conductor—and there are no subtitles in English for this version. The disk also includes well over an hour of audio from edited masters of Der Ring including most of the big orchestral excerpts, all of which have been issued before. Sound quality on this DVD (except for the purely audio portion) is disappointing, video quality little more than adequate. Still, this is an important reissue documenting one of the major achievements of the recording industry.

Decca's four-disk Solti set contains some remarkable treasures. For me, the highlight is the stunning performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 recorded in Royal Albert Hall during a Proms Concert in 1978. The Chicago Symphony has never sounded more resplendent than it does here. Of equal importance are the Strauss works, a magnificent Death and Transfiguration, and a glorious Four Last Songs with Lucia Popp, which never before has been issued. With the exception of Bruckner 7, all of the CSO recordings were made in Chicago's Orchestra Hall, and the engineering team has coped well with the problematic acoustics. The six Rossini overtures apparently were presented on one concert—but Solti wasn't the first to do that in Chicago. In 1958, RCA wanted to record Rossini overtures with Reiner conducting and five of them were scheduled for a Saturday night concert just to give the orchestra an extra "rehearsal." The Kodály, Bartók (a surprisingly dull Rakoczy March), Wiener, and Beethoven 7 are with the Vienna Philharmonic recorded in the Sofiensal in 1995 two years before Solti died. Documentation on this set leaves much to be desired: some recording dates are mentioned, but not all—information most collectors would like to have, so courtesy of Michael Gray, are dates: Rossini overtures (1978), Mendelssohn Symphony 4 (1976), Symphony No. 3 (1979), Violin Concerto (1980), Bruckner Symphony 6 (1979); Wagner overtures (1976), Strauss works (1977).

"ORCHESTRA" supposedly is "the essential guide to the modern symphony orchestra" featuring Sir Georg Solti conducting the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, a 1991 program for Channel 4 Television. Dudley Moore is the commentator interacting with conductor Solti and the orchestra in a program of bits and pieces of famous orchestral music. On the second DV we see Moore as piano soloist, and there are comments on conducting by Solti. A bonus CD offers more snippets and movements; the only complete work is Strauss's Don Juan. If the concept appeals to you, here it is, but I found a little bit of this goes a very long way.

R.E.B. (November 2007)

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