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Title page for the first printed edition of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Guest conductor George Szell led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on December 2 and 3, 1948, almost exactly four years following the work’s premiere on December 1, 1944, with Serge Koussevitzky leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In the Chicago Daily News, Clarence Joseph Bulliet called the work, “violent and awesome in its contrasts, sometimes as stormy as the most sensational of modern music. Then it calmed down to rival in delicacy the classicism of Haydn and Beethoven between which it was programmed at Orchestra Hall Thursday night.” (Haydn’s Oxford Symphony opened the concert, followed by the Bartók and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, that featured the debut of Seymour Lipkin.) Felix Borowski, writing for the Chicago Sun, added, that Bartók’s Concerto was, “of more than ordinary worth . . . Modern, indeed it is, but there are ideas—often very beautiful ideas—in the course of it. The orchestration is rich and colorful, frequently with new and beguiling textures.”

Early in his tenure as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner first led the Orchestra in his friend and countryman’s work on October 13 and 15, 1955. “This wonderful score, a network of nerves spun and controlled by the most brilliant of nervous energies, was played as only great orchestras can play,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “It is a superb work and a Reiner triumph.”

The following week, Reiner and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc on October 22; for RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer. In February 2016, Gramophone listed this release as one of the “finest recordings of Bartók’s music,” noting the “sheer fervour of Reiner’s direction . . . taut and agile . . . [his] precision and control is immediately apparent.”

The Orchestra has since recorded the work on five additional occasions, as follows:

During his year as principal conductor of the Ravinia Festival, Seiji Ozawa recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on June 30 and July 1, 1969, for AngelPeter Andry was the executive producer, Richard C. Jones the producer, and Carson Taylor was the recording engineer. Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti conducted the Concerto for London on January 19 and 20, 1981, in Orchestra Hall. James Mallinson was the producer and James Lock the balance engineer.

James Levine, Ravinia’s second music director, led sessions in Orchestra Hall on June 28, 1989, for Deutsche Grammophon. Steven Paul was executive producer, Christopher Alder the recording producer, and Gregor Zielinsky was balance engineer. During the 1990 tour to the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Austria, Solti conducted the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program, video recorded at the Budapest Convention Centre on November 28, 1990, for London. Humphrey Burton directed the production, and Katya Krausova was producer, Eric Abraham the executive producer, and Michael Haas the audio producer.

Most recently, Pierre Boulez recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on November 30, 1992, for Deutsche Grammophon. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler the recording producer, Rainer Maillard the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Reinhild Schmidt were recording engineers. The release won 1994 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.

Guest conductor Rafael Payare makes his subscription concert debut leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on January 18 and 20, 2018.

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During Sir Georg Solti‘s tenure as eighth music director (1969–1991) and music director laureate (1991–1997), he and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus amassed an astonishing discography. Decca Classics—to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Solti’s death—is releasing a set of these complete recordings in a 108-CD boxed set.

“Recording with the Chicago Symphony was the fulfillment of Solti’s dreams and ambitions, to be able to record for posterity the ephemeral quality and emotions of a performance by this world-class ensemble,” writes Lady Valerie Solti in the accompanying book. “The orchestra were enthusiasts, hard workers, and brilliant musicians who were as eager as Solti to make first-class records and to create for the future a lasting document, a legacy of their wonderful relationship, a collaboration which won worldwide acclaim and unparalleled Grammy awards.” The 180-page hardcover book also includes articles by mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton; producer and author Humphrey Burton; Martha Gilmer, who served as the Orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning during the latter half of Solti’s tenure; and CSO archivist Frank Villella; along with previously unpublished images from recording sessions.

The range of repertoire is vast: complete cycles of symphonies by Beethoven (twice, see here and here), Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here); Beethoven’s piano concertos; world premieres of Del Tredici’s Final Alice and Tippett’s Symphony no. 4 and Byzantium; complete operas including Beethoven’s FidelioSchoenberg’s Moses und AronVerdi’s Otelloand Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The set also includes hallmarks of the choral repertoire, featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe) performing Bach’s Mass in B minor and Saint Matthew PassionBeethoven’s Missa solemnisBerlioz’s The Damnation of FaustBrahms’s A German Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s The Creation (twice) and The Seasons, Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and Verdi’s Requiem, plus many more works by these composers along with Bartók, Berg, Debussy, Dohnányi, Dvořák, Kodály, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Weiner.

Solti leads the Orchestra in a recording session for Mahler’s Symphony no. 3 in November 1982 in Orchestra Hall (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Solti wrote in his Memoirs, “My term as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the happiest time in my professional life . . . the fulfillment of my dreams, but at the same time, it was a new learning experience for me, a master class in musical directorship.” This set is a testament to that remarkable partnership.

The set releases in the United States on September 15, 2017, and is available here.

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To commemorate the bicentennial of the death of Mozart, Sir Georg Solti led a performance of the composer’s Requiem in D minor at Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on December 5, 1991. The performance was given as part of a mass for the dead, celebrated by Hans Hermann Kardinal Groër, then Archbishop of Vienna.

The cast for the performance of the Requiem:

Arleen Augér, soprano
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
René Pape, bass
Vienna Philharmonic
Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus
Peter Burian, director

The entire mass was released as a film directed by Humphrey Burton and Michael Weinmann, and the audio of the Requiem was released on compact disc, both by London Records.

The attached YouTube video is not the property of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. We just thought it was interesting.

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Sir Georg Solti introduced soprano Kiri Te Kanawa to Chicago audiences in May 1978, in Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. Her program biography from those debut performances is here.

The reviews only briefly mentioned the vocal soloists. In the Chicago Tribune: “Miss Te Kanawa and [Bernd] Weikl, both making subscription-series debuts, were a beautifully matched pair of young, fresh-voiced soloists. She seemed a mite cautious at the outset of her solo, but her message of consolation had a billowing purity of sound that was irresistible.” And in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Two soloists are required and both were known to us by reputation, but it was splendid to have singers of the standard of soprano Kiri Te Kanawa and baritone Bernd Weikl on stage to sustain the consistency of achievement in this performance at the highest level.” The complete reviews are here and here.

In addition to the performances at Orchestra Hall, Brahms’s Requiem was also performed at Carnegie Hall on May 12, 1978.

Te Kanawa also appeared with Solti at Orchestra Hall in Duparc’s Mélodies françaises and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony on March 23, 24, 25, and 26, 1983; in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion on March 19 and 21, 1987; in excerpts from Verdi’s Otello (with Plácido Domingo) on a special concert celebrating Solti’s seventy-fifth birthday on October 9, 1987; and in complete performances of Otello in 1991 at Orchestra Hall (April 8 and 12) and Carnegie Hall (April 16 and 19).

Solti and Te Kanawa made a number of recordings together. With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, they collaborated on Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem in 1978, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in 1983, Handel’s Messiah in 1984, Bach’s Saint Mathew Passion in 1987, and Verdi’s Otello in 1991.

Te Kanawa also recorded under Solti’s baton in Bizet’s Carmen in 1975 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in 1981 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Puccini’s Tosca in 1984 with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, and in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in 1988 with The Royal Opera (for video). (All recordings were released by London Records.)

In 1990, Solti and Te Kanawa collaborated on a special video project, entitled The Maestro and the Diva, directed by Humphrey Burton. The program candidly showed the two of them in rehearsal (in Solti’s home studio in London) and performance of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with the Vienna Philharmonic. An audio recording was also released and also included several more Strauss songs with Solti at the piano.

Several additional excerpts from the program are also available here.

The attached YouTube video is not the property of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. We just thought it was interesting.

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John Culshaw‘s book Ring Resounding begins with: “In Vienna, on the afternoon of September 24, 1958, Decca began the first commercial recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen; seven years later, on the evening of November 19, 1965, every note and every word of Wagner’s huge masterpiece had been recorded. Nothing comparable in scope, cost, or artistic and technical challenge had been attempted in the history of the gramophone.”

Georg Solti led the Vienna Philharmonic and an unbelievable cast of singers in sessions at the Sofiensaal. The recordings, released and remastered numerous times, have never been out of print, and according to a recent issue of BBC Music Magazine, the cycle still ranks as the greatest recording of all time.

The recording of Die Walküre won the 1966 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. And for their unprecedented achievement, Solti and Culshaw received the Recording Academy’s first Grammy Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” to the art of recording.

The casts:

Das Rheingold
Wotan George London, bass-baritone
Donner Eberhard Wächter, baritone
Froh Waldemar Kmentt, tenor
Loge Set Svanholm, tenor
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone
Mime Paul Kuen, tenor
Fasolt Walter Kreppel, bass
Fafner Kurt Böhme, bass
Fricka Kirsten Flagstad, soprano
Freia Claire Watson, soprano
Erda Jean Madeira, mezzo-soprano
Woglinde Oda Balsborg, soprano
Wellgunde Hetty Plümacher, mezzo-soprano
Flosshilde Ira Malaniuk, contralto
Recorded September 24 – October 8, 1958

Die Walküre
Siegmund James King, tenor
Sieglinde Régine Crespin, soprano
Wotan Hans Hotter, bass-baritone
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson, soprano
Hunding Gottlob Frick, bass
Fricka Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Gerhilde Vera Schlosser, soprano
Ortlinde Helga Dernesch, mezzo-soprano
Waltraute Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo-soprano
Schwertleite Helen Watts, contralto
Helmwige Berit Lindholm, soprano
Siegrune Vera Little, contralto
Grimgerde Marilyn Tyler, soprano
Rossweisse Claudia Hellmann, contralto
Recorded October 29 – November 19, 1965

Siegfried
Siegfried Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor
Mime Gerhard Stolze, tenor
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson, soprano
Wanderer (Wotan) Hans Hotter, bass-baritone
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone
Fafner Kurt Böhme, bass
Erda Marga Höffgen, contralto
Waldvogel Joan Sutherland, soprano
Recorded May 8 – November 5, 1962

Götterdämmerung
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson, soprano
Siegfried Wolfgang Windgassen, tenor
Waltraute Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Gunther Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
Gutrune Claire Watson, soprano
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger, bass-baritone
Hagen Gottlob Frick, bass
First Norn Helen Watts, contralto
Second Norn Grace Hoffman, mezzo-soprano
Third Norn Anita Välkki, soprano
Woglinde Lucia Popp, soprano
Wellgunde Gwyneth Jones, soprano
Flosshilde Maureen Guy, mezzo-soprano
Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wilhelm Pitz, chorus master
Recorded May 20 – November 24, 1964

During sessions for Götterdämmerung in the fall of 1964, Humphrey Burton filmed a now classic documentary, The Golden Ring, for the BBC. A few amazing clips from that program are below.



The attached YouTube videos are not the property of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. We just thought they were interesting.

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