RCA Red Seal Records (now a division of Sony Masterworks) recently released the complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings—some available for the first time on CD—led by our seventh music director Jean Martinon. (The set has not yet been released in the United States but is available from several European and Japanese distributors.)
“It’s always a very delicate and perilous business for a conductor to take over a renowned orchestra that has just passed through a glorious and legendary era under a charismatic predecessor,” writes Christoph Schlüren in the accompanying booklet, referring to Martinon succeeding Fritz Reiner. “Martinon was not blessed by fate in Chicago. The problem was not that the orchestra failed to appreciate him, nor that the ensemble’s outstanding level dropped under his leadership. The surviving recordings are no less brilliant than Reiner’s. . . . In any event, the standard view that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra did not really get going until Martinon gave way to Georg Solti is true only with regard to its commercial success and resultant worldwide fame, not to the perfection of its playing.”
The set includes a number of works, most notably Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra (featuring several CSO principal players); Mennin’s Symphony no. 7; Varèse’s Arcana; and Weber’s Clarinet Concertos nos. 1 and 2 with Benny Goodman. Additionally, two very special works are heard: an arrangement of Paganini’s Moto perpetuo as arranged by the CSO’s second music director Frederick Stock (according to Schlüren, “wittily peppered with fragments from the finale of [Beethoven’s] Eroica“) as well as Martinon’s own Symphony no. 4 (Altitudes), commissioned for the Orchestra’s seventy-fifth season. And similar to the previously issued Reiner set, the booklet includes numerous images from the collections of the Rosenthal Archives.