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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra embarked on its first overseas tour to Europe in 1971, with music director Georg Solti and principal guest conductor Carlo Maria Giulini sharing conducting duties. The Orchestra was on the road for nearly six weeks, leaving Chicago on August 26 and returning on October 6, for a tour that included twenty-five concerts in fifteen venues in nine countries (Austria, Belgium, England, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, and Sweden), performing sixteen different works. No other international tour since has included more concerts or a wider variety of programming.

Tickertape parade down State and LaSalle streets on October 14, 1971

Tickertape parade down State and LaSalle streets on October 14, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Consistently welcomed and cheered by capacity audiences, the Orchestra received overwhelmingly favorable critical response. Upon their return to Chicago, the musicians received a hero’s welcome: a tickertape parade down State and LaSalle streets on October 14, 1971.

Recording Mahler's Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna

Recording Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Before the Orchestra performed a single concert, there were four recording sessions for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna beginning on August 30. The cast included sopranos Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, and Arleen Augér; mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton; contralto Helen Watts; tenor René Kollo; baritone John Shirley-Quirk; bass Martti Talvela; and three choruses: the Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, the Singverein Chorus, and the Vienna Boys Choir.

In Gramophone, Edward Greenfield wrote, “Now at last Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand can be heard on record at something approaching its full, expansive stature. Here is a version from Solti which far more clearly than any previous one conveys the feeling of a great occasion. Just as a great performance, live in the concert hall, takes off and soars from the very start, so the impact of the great opening on ‘Veni, creator spiritus’ tingles here with electricity . . . [with] playing from the Chicago orchestra that shows up all rivals in precision of ensemble, Solti’s performance sets standards beyond anything we have known before.”

The London Records recording won three 1972 Grammy awards for Album of the Year–Classical, Best Choral Performance–Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording–Classical.

Carlo Maria Giulini and Georg Solti

Carlo Maria Giulini and Georg Solti (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

This article also appears here. Some of this content previously appeared here and here.

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On August 26, 1971, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra departed for Vienna, embarking on the first leg of the first European tour. On August 29, Solti met the musicians at the Wiener Konzerthaus for their first tour rehearsal together, and the next day—before the Orchestra had performed their first tour concert—they began recording Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony.

There were four recording sessions at the Sofiensaal in Vienna: one each on August 30 and September 1, and two on August 31. (The first concert of the tour was given on September 3 in Edinburgh.)

A page from the Orchestra’s schedule book from August 30, 1971

The all-star cast was as follows:

Heather Harper, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir

Edward Greenfield‘s review in Gramophone magazine raved: “Now at last Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand can be heard on record at something approaching its full, expansive stature. Here is a version from Solti which far more clearly than any previous one conveys the feeling of a great occasion. Just as a great performance, live in the concert-hall, takes off and soars from the very start, so the impact of the great opening on ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ tingles here with electricity. There was something of that charismatic quality in the recording of Bernstein with the LSO, but with superb atmospheric recording and a sense of space more than in rival versions, not to mention playing from the Chicago orchestra that shows up all rivals in precision of ensemble, Solti’s performance sets standards beyond anything we have known before. . . .

Members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir during a recording session

“Solti, characteristically, refuses to accept half measures. This is as near a live performance as the dynamic Solti can make it. At times the sheer physical impact makes one gasp for breath, and I found myself at the thunderous end of the first movement shouting out in joyous sympathy, so overwhelming is the build-up of tension. Maybe this is not a record which one will be able to cope with emotionally in frequent repetition, but to my mind it justifies Mahler’s great scheme in emotional as well as intellectual terms to a degree unknown on record before . . . No doubt one day the achievement of this first really great recording of Mahler’s Eighth will be surpassed, but in the meantime I can only urge all Mahlerians—and others too—to share the great experience which Solti and his collaborators offer.”

Solti with concertmaster Sidney Weiss

David Harvey produced the recording, and Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1972 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical, Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording—Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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The May 2012 issue of Gramophone magazine includes the first installment of their Hall of Fame, and Sir Georg Solti is included on the list.

The print edition of the magazine includes a tribute written by pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet: “The more I grow in my life as [a] musician, the more the example of Sir Georg shines in my private pantheon. With his always-ongoing energy, insatiable curiosity, and desire to meet and help the younger generation, he showed us how a career should be built progressively and organically in order to achieve one’s own artistic goal. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to meet Sir Georg in the last three years of his life when he was extremely generous to share with me his extremely precise and powerful musical ideas. He also gave me the best advice: ‘Never give up, keep working, there is always room at the top.'”

Online, Gramophone also includes a link to an article from 1981, written by Edward Greenfield. The article describes some of the recording sessions for Solti’s 1981 recording of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro for London. A dream cast had been assembled:

Count Almaviva Thomas Allen, baritone
Countess Almaviva Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Susanna Lucia Popp, soprano
Figaro Samuel Ramey, bass
Cherubino Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Marcellina Jane Berbié, mezzo-soprano
Doctor Bartolo Kurt Moll, bass
Don Basilio Robert Tear, tenor
Don Curzio Philip Langridge, tenor
Barbarina Yvonne Kenny, soprano
Antonio Giorgio Tadeo, bass
Jeffrey Tate, continuo
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Opera Chorus

The recording won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Three other notable conductors affiliated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra also made Gramophone‘s list: Pierre Boulez (principal guest conductor 1995-2006, conductor emeritus 2006- ), Daniel Barenboim (music director 1991-2006), and Claudio Abbado (principal guest conductor 1982-1985).

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