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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded each of Brahms’s four symphonies multiple times and also has recorded the complete cycle on three different occasions. A complete listing is below.

During his tenure as Ravinia Festival music director, James Levine recorded the symphonies with the Orchestra for RCA at Medinah Temple. The recordings were produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Paul Goodman was the recording engineer. Jay David Saks also co-produced the First Symphony, which was recorded in July 1975. The remaining three were recorded in July 1976.

Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti also led the Orchestra in sessions at Medinah Temple. For London, the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures) were produced by James Mallinson; Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The Third and Fourth symphonies were recorded in May 1978, and the First and Second were recorded in January 1979. The set won 1979 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Daniel Barenboim, the Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn) live at Orchestra Hall for Erato. Vic Muenzer was producer, Lawrence Rock was the sound engineer, assisted by Christopher Willis; and Konrad Strauss was the mastering engineer. All four symphonies were recorded live in 1993: the First and Third in May, the Fourth in September, and the Second in October.

Recordings of the individual symphonies by other conductors are listed below.

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Recorded by Mercury in Orchestra Hall in April 1952
David Hall, recording director
C. Robert Fine and George Piros engineers

Günter Wand, conductor
Recorded live for RCA in Orchestra Hall in January 1989
Norman Pellegrini and David Frost, producers
Mitchell Heller, recording engineer
John Purcell, post-production engineer

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

Frederick Stock, conductor
Recorded by Columbia in New York’s Liederkranz Hall in November 1940

Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall in December 1957
Richard Mohr, producer

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel in Medinah Temple in October 1969
Peter Andry, producer
Carson Taylor, balance engineer

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Brahms’s four symphonies at Orchestra Hall in May. Details here and here.

Lucia-Popp

On November 12, 2014, we celebrate the seventy-fifth birthday of the extraordinary Slovak soprano Lucia Popp, a favorite soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra between 1970 and 1984.

According to Sir Georg Solti, one of her frequent collaborators in Chicago and at Covent Garden, “To my mind, there will never be a Sophie (in Der Rosenkavalier) or a Susanna (in The Marriage of Figaro) to equal hers.” Popp’s career was tragically cut short and she succumbed to brain cancer in 1993, only days after her fifty-fourth birthday.

Popp appeared and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions. Her complete performance history and discography is listed below:

March 12, 14 & 16, 1970, at Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Fidelio, Op. 72
Georg Solti, conductor
Anja Silja, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Jess Thomas, tenor
Frank Porretta, tenor
Herbert Fliether, baritone
Kurt Boehme, bass
Thomas Paul, bass
William Wahman, tenor
Gary Kendall, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director

August 30, 31 & September 1, 1971, at Sofiensaal in Vienna (recording sessions only, no public performances)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Heather Harper, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir
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.

May 5, 6 & 7, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
May 13, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Victor Aitay, violin
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Following the Carnegie Hall performance, the work was recorded for London Records with multiple sessions in Chicago’s Medinah Temple. Ray Minshull was the producer and Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The recording won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Lucia Popp in Strauss's Four Last Songs at Orchestra Hall in October 1977. Sir Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Lucia Popp in Strauss’s Four Last Songs at Orchestra Hall in October 1977. Sir Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

October 17 & 19, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
These performances originally were recorded by Unitel for television broadcast and recently were commercially released on the four-DVD set Sir Georg Solti: The Maestro.

October 27 & 28, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
October 31, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor (October 27 & 28)
Margaret Hillis, conductor (October 31)
Christiane Eda-Pierre, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Barbara Hendricks, soprano
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
William Walker, baritone
Donald Gramm, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

November 1 & 2, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Henry Mazer, conductor (November 1)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor (November 2)
Lucia Popp, soprano

December 13, 14, 15 & 16, 1978, at Orchestra Hall
MOZART Mass in C Minor, K. 427
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Maria Venuti, soprano
Daniel Nelson, tenor
Samuel Jones, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 13, 14, & 15, 1980, at Orchestra Hall
MOZART Mass in C Major, K. 317 (Coronation)
Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Oliver, tenor
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Originally recorded by WFMT for radio broadcast, this was released on the CSO’s From the Archives, vol. 13 (Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration).

October 21, 22, 23 & 24, 1981, at Orchestra Hall
MOZART Nehmt meinen Dank, K. 383
MOZART Ah, lo previdi, K. 272
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano

December 7, 1981, at Orchestra Hall (special concert dedicating the newly installed Möller pipe organ)
HAYDN Benedictus from Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, Hob. XXII, No. 7
HANDEL “But oh! what art can teach” and “Orpheus could lead the savage race” from Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Frederick Swann, organ

March 15, 16 & 17, 1984, at Orchestra Hall
March 19, 1984, at Uihlein Hall, Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee
MAHLER Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Walton Grönroos, baritone

A marvelous tribute to Lucia Popp by Louise T. Guinther appears in the November 2014 issue of Opera News.

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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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Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded Brahms’s four symphonies between May 1978 and January 1979 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures), and that set won the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

For the liner notes, Solti contributed the following:

“I would like to make a few comments about aspects of our recording of the Brahms symphonies, which formed part of a Brahms cycle that included the German Requiem, the Hadyn Variations, and the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures.

“The recordings, which were all made in the Medinah Temple, Chicago, took place over a period of approximately fifteen months, between October 1977, when we started with the Haydn Variations and January 1979, when we completed the cycle with the First and Second symphonies. My principal aim was to try to capture the feeling of real performances on record, and with this in mind, we always recorded whole movements without breaks. I am convinced that this is the only way, especially in the symphonies, to keep the musical architecture of the works alive. It is a tribute to the splendid quality of my Chicago orchestra and chorus that we seldom made more than two takes of anything, and there is in fact one movement of the Requiem which required just a single take.

“I would just like to highlight a few of my thoughts on each of the symphonies:

“The First Symphony is a work of dramatic tension, passion, and grandeur, which inspired von Bülow to refer to it as Beethoven’s Tenth—not, I feel, so much in relation to Beethoven as in this very sense of grandeur. In the first movement, the drama is so effectively created by Brahms by the relentless flow of rhythmic ostinati from the timpani beats at the outset to the throbbing on horns and timpani which underlies the final bars. The second movement has, in contrast, such a gentle, nostalgic, and lyrical quality and gives, together with the third and fourth movements, a variety of beautiful solos for the section leaders.

“In the Second and Third symphonies, while the coloring is much lighter, I have tried again to achieve structural clarity and to reproduce the chamber music quality which is so in evidence in these works, especially in the second and third movements of both. So as to enhance this, we used slightly fewer than full string strength and also undoubled woodwinds.

“The Fourth Symphony is structurally quite differently formed from the first three. The first movement is relatively shorter and the middle two movements much larger both in conception and content. With the last movement comes the complete break with both his own and symphonic tradition, by the creation of such a marvelous passacaglia.

“The question of first movement exposition repeats in the first three symphonies is a debated one. For each of these, Brahms composed prima and seconda volta bars which contain of course marvelous music. In live performances, I feel it should be left to the conductor’s discretion. Nearly always the repeats are omitted, as they make the works rather longer, but I felt that for recording it was important to preserve these few bars, and I have therefore kept in all the repeats. I was interested to discover that I was not alone in never having played the repeat in the First Symphony in all the performances I had ever conducted up until this recording. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had also never done so in the almost ninety years of its existence. So we were all hearing these bars for the first time!

“We had enormous joy in making these records and we felt, at the same time, a very great artistic responsibility. I hope that we have managed to convey some of both.”

All recordings on the set were produced by James Mallinson; Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot, and Michael Mailes were the engineers.

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
January 1979

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Tragic Overture, Op. 81
May 1978

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With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti conducted Beethoven’s Missa solemnis on three sets of concerts:

November 1, 2, and 3, 1973, at Orchestra Hall
Victor Aitay, violin
Wendy Fine, soprano (November 1)
Sarah Beatty, soprano (November 2 and 3)
Julia Hamari, mezzo-soprano
George Shirley, tenor
Theo Adam, bass (November 1 and 2)
Thomas Paul, bass (November 3)
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

There were multiple cast changes due to illnesses, both before and after the programs were printed. About a week before the performances, George Shirley replaced Peter Schreier. Karl Ridderbusch was replaced the day before the first performance by Theo Adam, who was in town for Wagner’s Siegfried at Lyric Opera; he sang the first two performances and Thomas Paul sang the third. Following the first performance, Wendy Fine was replaced by Sarah Beatty.

May 5, 6, and 7, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
May 13, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
Victor Aitay, violin
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

Following the Carnegie Hall performance, the work was recorded for London Records with multiple sessions in Chicago’s Medinah Temple. Ray Minshull was the producer and Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes were the engineers.

The recording won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

January 12, 13, and 14, 1984, at Orchestra Hall
January 16, 1984, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Samuel Magad, violin
Felicity Lott, soprano
Diana Montague, mezzo-soprano
Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor
Simon Estes, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

Available reviews are here (1973), here (1977), and here (1984).

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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.

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With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Georg Solti conducted Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman in May 1976, with concerts in Chicago and New York City:

May 6 and 8, 1976, at Orchestra Hall
May 14, 1976, at Carnegie Hall
The Dutchman Norman Bailey, bass-baritone
Senta Janis Martin, soprano
Daland Martti Talvelabass
Erik René Kollo, tenor
The Steersman Werner Krenntenor
Mary Isola Jonesmezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus; Margaret Hillis, director

Reviews of the performances in Chicago are here and for New York here.

The week following the Carnegie Hall performance, the work was recorded for London Records with multiple sessions in Chicago’s Medinah Temple. Ray Minshull was the producer assisted by Michael Woolcock, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the engineers.

Solti leading Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in New York’s Carnegie Hall on May 14, 1976


Recording session in May 1976 in Chicago’s Medinah Temple for Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

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Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
May 1974

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
May 1974

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
November 1973 and May 1974

Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
May 1974

A recording session for Beethoven's Fifth or Eighth Symphony at Medinah Temple in November 1973.


Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
November 1973

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria
September 1974

Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria
September 1974

Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
November 1973

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Pilar Lorengar, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Martti Talvela, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
David Harvey, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
May and June 1972

Margaret Hillis and Solti listen to playbacks of the Ninth Symphony at the Krannert Center in May 1972.

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Solti conducting Beethoven in Krannert - May 1971


In May 1971 and 1972, Vladimir Ashkenazy recorded Beethoven’s five piano concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Solti conducting. On May 10 and 11, 1971, the third and fifth concertos were recorded, and a year later on May 22 and 23, 1972, the cycle was completed with the first, second, and fourth concertos. All recording sessions took place at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For London Records, the recording was produced by David Harvey; Kenneth Wilkinson was the recording engineer.

The set of all five concertos won the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance—Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with orchestra).

Ashkenazy, Solti, and David Harvey listening to playbacks - May 1971

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