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In May 1972, Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The work was recorded for London Records; David Harvey was the producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson was the engineer.

In the November 1972 issue of Gramophone magazine, Jerrold Northrop Moore wrote: “The team of Decca engineers working in Chicago have done this portion of their work wonderfully well. Each of the three orchestral choirs, and especially the fourth section—the percussion—has been given its own special sound. So there is a greater separation (in a way that has nothing to do with stereo) than one would hear from any one place in the concert hall. Listening to this recording is almost like occupying all the best seats at once. That serves Berlioz’s peculiar kind of sonic counterpoint very well indeed. Yet the tuttis combine, I venture to say, every bit as well as their extravagant composer envisioned that they might.

“The Chicago musicians play superbly and enthusiastically for Sir Georg. Together they find more convincing music in the first three movements than I can recall having heard come out of any single performance. This is due mostly to the prodigies of imagination and sensitivity which Solti lavishes upon Berlioz’s hare-brained musical structures—diligently searching out and developing the tiniest shreds whereby development can be made out. And despite this care, I think no one will find that the sensational aspects have been scantily served. Where this sophistication cannot save the situation is in the last two sections, especially the March. There the music is being wound up and set going toward results which are frankly calculated to overtake any purely musical interest, and even Solti is not able to turn rumbustious tedium into perfect eloquence. Nevertheless in his hands, those of the Chicago musicians and those of the Decca engineers, vulgarity itself comes close to the artistically viable.”

At the time, Rose Records at 214 South Wabash (later Tower Records and now a school for barbers-to-be) had a neon sign made to promote the recording. The sign was on display in the store for several years, later donated to the Orchestra, and ultimately found its way to the Rosenthal Archives. Sadly, it no longer illuminates; the last time it was plugged in years ago, only half of one of the letters fizzed slightly. But it is still looks great on top of the shelves in the reading room.

The recording won 1974 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra; Best Engineered Recording, Classical; and Album of the Year, Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique album front cover . . .

. . . and back cover.

the vault

Theodore Thomas


The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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