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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
Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s first music director, died on January 4, 1905. For many years after, the Orchestra would dedicate the first concerts of the new year to his memory, frequently performing works closely associated with their founder. We continue that tradition on this week’s radio broadcast, as Frank Villella, director of the CSO’s Rosenthal Archives, co-hosts a retrospective of works that Thomas introduced to audiences in the United States, both with the Chicago Orchestra and other ensembles.
In 1879, the University of Breslau in Poland bestowed upon Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate, and to show his appreciation, he composed the Academic Festival Overture the following summer. The composer himself led the first public performance at the university in January 1881, and later that year on November 29, Thomas led the U.S. premiere in New York.
Daniel Barenboim, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded Brahms’s complete symphonies, along with the Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the Academic Festival Overture, all for Erato Records.
In the nineteenth century, Thomas was Richard Wagner’s greatest advocate in the United States, both before and after he founded the Chicago Orchestra. During his fourteen seasons as music director, he programmed Wagner’s music on nearly half of his concerts, both in Chicago and with the Orchestra on tour. Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde in New York on February 10, 1866, less than a year after the opera’s first complete performances in Munich; and he also gave the first U.S. performance of the Prelude paired with the Liebestod in Boston on December 6, 1871. Thomas programmed these two works together fifteen times on subscription concerts during his tenure as music director.
Artur Rodzinski was the Orchestra’s fourth music director for only one season (1947–48). One of his great successes was a concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in November 1947, featuring soprano Kirsten Flagstad in her first operatic appearance in the United States since the end of World War II. The legendary Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy called the performance “the dawn of a new operatic day in Chicago.” A month later, Rodzinski and the Orchestra recorded the Prelude and Liebestod for RCA.
Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the Chicago Orchestra on January 3, 1902, and it was such a crowd-pleaser that he programmed it a second time later that season. A few years later in April 1907, second music director Frederick Stock invited the composer himself to lead several of his works, including In the South, the first Pomp and Circumstance March, and the Enigma Variations. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”
Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, recorded the Enigma Variations on May 15, 1974, at Medinah Temple for London Records.
During the summer of 1883, Thomas visited Europe and according to his Memoirs—edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas—the conductor, “had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who has recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested young Strauss to let him have the other movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert of the Philharmonic Society.” Thomas kept that promise and in New York in December 1884, he led the world premiere of the Second Symphony in F minor—the first music of Richard Strauss to be performed in the United States. Strauss would later send new scores, and Thomas introduced several works to the United States with the Orchestra, including Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, along with Ein Heldenleben, first performed in Chicago on March 9, 1900.
Near the end of his first season as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner made his first recordings with the Orchestra for RCA. In Orchestra Hall on March 6, 1954, they recorded Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben, with violin solos performed by then-concertmaster John Weicher. Reiner’s CSO recordings of music by Strauss have never been out of print, and in 2013, Sony re-issued Reiner’s complete CSO catalog on RCA, a boxed set of sixty-three CDs.
TCHAIKOVSKY Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Morton Gould, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, January 1966
Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on October 22, 1892, on the first concert of the Orchestra’s second season. The program note described Tchaikovsky as the “composer, who, in his fifth symphony, has led us into the highest realms of art and stirred our very soul,” and the note described the selections from the ballet as “miniature pictures painted with infinite grace and care,” showing the composer, “in one of his playful and trifling moods.”
Morton Gould, a frequent guest conductor on Popular concerts in the 1960s, recorded selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Orchestra Hall on January 31, 1966, for RCA. A six-disc set of Gould’s complete recordings with the Orchestra was released by Sony in February 2016.
In September 1995, Sir Georg Solti led three concert performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Orchestra Hall. The performances were split: the first two acts on one concert and the third act on a separate concert over the course of two open dress rehearsals and four concerts. Principal soloists included Karita Mattila, Iris Vermillion, Ben Heppner, Herbert Lippert, José van Dam, Alan Opie, and René Pape, along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus prepared by Duain Wolfe.
“Last weekend you could call the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, without fear of contradiction, the best and most prestigious Wagnerian pit band in the world of opera,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Even as Solti blockbusters go, [these concerts] were an extraordinary experience—painstakingly prepared and powerfully executed. . . . It would be no exaggeration to call this a milestone in Solti’s Wagnerian career to rank with his historic recording of the Ring.”
The subsequent London Records release won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. The award marked Solti’s thirty-first Grammy, more than any other recording artist in any genre. He received seven awards in addition to his twenty-four awards with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Solti and producer John Culshaw also received the first NARAS Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” in connection with the first complete recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti also received the Academy’s 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.
At the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999—following two performances at Orchestra Hall on March 24 and 26—Pierre Boulez led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the equally formidable Chicago Symphony Chorus (appearing for the first time in Germany), Chris Merritt and David Pittmann-Jennings [in the title roles], chorus director Duain Wolfe, and, on top of it, a relaxed yet excited Pierre Boulez . . . led the ensemble effortlessly through the work,” praised Manuel Brug in Die Welt. The Orchestra “played the sometimes harsh notes without any brash force in beauty, glimmer, and warmth as if it were a score by Strauss. . . . The difficulty was handled like a walk in the park, especially with the almost perfect pronunciation of the Chorus, with magnificent presence.”
“The concert of the century!” proclaimed Klaus Geitel in the Berliner Morgenpost. “Under the truly magnificent leadership of Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated phenomenal chorus performed Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron: the ‘old testament’ of new music. . . . One should not expect to hear Schoenberg’s most demanding piece in comparable perfection ever again.”
The Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, had performed Schoenberg’s opera twice previously at Orchestra Hall: on November 11, 12, and 13, 1971 (also with a run-out to Carnegie Hall on November 20), and again on April 19 and 21, 1984. Later that month, the opera was recorded at Orchestra Hall for London Records.
In Gramophone, Arnold Whittall observed that Solti’s “faith in Schoenberg’s most ambitious dramatic project remains undimmed and he believes that, with increasing familiarity, the music becomes ‘clearer, less complicated, and more expressive and romantic’ . . . [explaining the] abiding fascination of Schoenberg’s last attempt to bring a great philosophical issue to dramatic life.” The recording won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
To conclude his twenty-two seasons as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director in 1991, Sir Georg Solti led concert performances of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall on April 8 and 12 and at Carnegie Hall on April 16 and 19. Principal soloists included soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as Desdemona, tenor Luciano Pavarotti as Otello, and baritone Leo Nucci as Iago. All four performances were recorded live by London Records.
After the first performance in Orchestra Hall, John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune reported that “Solti had his Chicago Symphony playing this formidably difficult score as if it were a seasoned opera orchestra; every opera house should have such a band of virtuosi in residence. No minor contributions to the evening were made by the Chicago Symphony Chorus, superbly prepared by the redoubtable Margaret Hillis [along with guest chorus director Terry Edwards], and augmented by the Chicago Children’s Choir.”
Donal Henahan, following the first Carnegie Hall concert, in The New York Times praised “The Chicago, never in our time less than a great orchestra, provided many thrills. In the stupendous opening scene, it and Margaret Hillis’s chorus unleashed every erg of sonic energy the hall could tolerate, vividly establishing the mood for violent events to come.” In London’s Financial Times, Andrew Porter noted, “I’ve never heard Solti’s famous excitability so completely harnessed to a disciplined, long-lined, marvelously vivid, engrossing account of the whole score.”
At the conclusion of the April 19 concert—Solti’s last as music director—von Rhein reported, “A mighty shout of approval immediately went up from the house.” This continued for several minutes until Solti took “co-concertmaster Rubén González by the hand and [led] him off the stage—a sign for the rest of the Orchestra to follow. . . . He will, of course, return to Chicago in the fall, and for many years thereafter, as CSO music director laureate. But no Solti farewell will ever seem as emotionally momentous as this one.”
In January 1986, Chicago Bears fever invaded Orchestra Hall.
According to Norman Pellegrini (longtime WFMT program director as well as producer and host of CSO radio broadcasts): “At the end of a Tchaikovsky–Liszt orchestral concert with Sir Georg Solti conducting [on January 23] . . . applause kept the maestro returning to center stage. Suddenly, members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus—wearing Bears sweatshirts—streamed onstage, and Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a rousing rendition of the Bears’ fight song, “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” [written by Al Hoffman under the pseudonym Jerry Downs in 1941]. The audience joined in singing, and in the two repeats of the concert, the same thing happened with even more ‘performers’ onstage. Backstage people, Chicago Symphony Orchestra staff, and others—including Lady Valerie Solti—crowded in to sing along.”
Solti and the Orchestra recorded the fight song—along with The Star-Spangled Banner (also with the Chorus) and John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever—for London Records on January 27. It was released a few months later on a tremendously popular album in conjunction with the annual Marathon fundraiser. A live version from January 23 also was released on Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration in the spring of 1998, in conjunction with the annual Radiothon fundraiser.
The commercial recording legacy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—under second music director Frederick Stock—began on May 1, 1916. For the Columbia Graphophone Company (at an undocumented location in Chicago), they recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre; and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Heart Wounds and The Last Spring.
Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Grieg’s The Last Spring were each on the first 80-rpm disc issued in October 1916, and a Columbia Records sales brochure raved, “The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! . . . There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”
To commemorate this legacy, this collage of record and CD labels is on display in the first floor of Symphony Center’s Rotunda through the end of the Orchestra’s current—the 125th—season. Details of all of the recordings included are below (all recordings were made at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted).
Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 11, 1942, performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with George Szell conducting. On July 22 and 24, Schanbel and the Orchestra recorded the Fourth along with Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at Orchestra Hall for Victor Records. Frederick Stock conducted these, his last, recording sessions with the Orchestra; he died a few short months later on October 20.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite under the baton of the composer on December 6, 1918. On March 16, 1945, third music director Désiré Defauw recorded the work for RCA.
Fourth music director Artur Rodzinski led the Orchestra in a complete performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde—with Set Svanholm and Kirsten Flagstad in the title roles—at the Civic Opera House on November 16, 1947. A month later on December 14, he led the Orchestra in recording sessions for the Prelude and Liebestod at Orchestra Hall.
For Mercury Records, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Orchestra’s first recording of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on April 23 and 24, 1951. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth performed the opening fanfare.
On March 6, 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time: Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben for RCA. (Reiner’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)
At the third annual Grammy awards ceremony on April 12, 1961, the Orchestra’s recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta received the award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra. Reiner had conducted the RCA release. That same evening, the Orchestra’s recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—also on RCA and with Erich Leinsdorf conducting—earned the award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist for Sviatoslav Richter. These were the first two Grammy awards earned for recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Reiner led the Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by its founder Margaret Hillis), and mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky for RCA—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chorus—on March 7, 1959, at Orchestra Hall.
Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first recording with the Orchestra on April 16, 1960: Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Reiner conducting for RCA. (A complete list of Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.)
On March 19, 1966, seventh music director Jean Martinon led the Orchestra in recording sessions for Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra for RCA. Featured soloists were CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Willard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn, in his first week on the job), Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone). (Martinon’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)
Benny Goodman recorded Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra on June 18, 1966, for RCA. Morton Gould conducted. (Gould’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)
The Orchestra made its second recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade on June 30 and July 1, 1969, at Medinah Temple for Angel. Seiji Ozawa, the Ravinia Festival’s first music director, conducted and concertmaster Victor Aitay was violin soloist.
During eighth music director Georg Solti‘s first season as music director, the Orchestra performed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970, and were called back for twelve curtain calls. Beginning on March 26 at Medinah Temple, Solti and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc—their first recording together—for London Records.
Daniel Barenboim, who would later become ninth music director, made his first recording with the Orchestra on November 11, 1970, at Medinah Temple. For Angel, he led sessions for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with his wife Jacqueline du Pré as soloist. (A summary of du Pré’s association with the Orchestra is here.)
Before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the first concert of its first tour to Europe in 1971, Solti led recording sessions for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on August 30, 31, and September 1. Soloists included Heather Harper, Lucia Popp (more about Popp’s performances with the Orchestra is here), Arleen Augér, Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts, René Kollo, John Shirley-Quirk, and Martti Talvela. The recording won three 1972 Grammy awards for Album of the Year–Classical, Best Choral Performance–Classical (other than opera) (for the Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, Singverein Chorus, and Vienna Boys’ Choir), and Best Engineered Recording–Classical.
On December 13, 1977, Barenboim and the Orchestra recorded Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon, part of a complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies that also included the Te Deum, Helgoland, and Psalm 150.
Following concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall, Solti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including Hildegard Behrens as Leonore and Peter Hofmann as Florestan) and in recording sessions for Beethoven’s Fidelio—”the first digitally recorded opera to be released,” according to Gramophone—at Medinah Temple on May 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1979.
Second music director of the Ravinia Festival, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus, and soloists (June Anderson, Phillip Creech, and Bernd Weikl) in sessions for Orff’s Carmina burana on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon. The recording was awarded the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).
At the end of a subscription concert at Orchestra Hall on January 23, 1986, Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a spirited encore of the Chicago Bears‘ fight song “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” in anticipation of the team’s Super Bowl victory. The day after the game, the work was recorded by London Records.
Solti led recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the second time he and the Orchestra and Chorus had recorded the work—on September 28, 30, and October 7, 1986, for London. Soloists were Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin. The release was awarded the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
Claudio Abbado, second principal guest conductor, led the Orchestra in Brahms’s Double Concerto with Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma (future Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant) as soloists on November 7 and 8, 1986, for CBS Records.
Closing the 97th season in June 1988, Leonard Bernstein led the Orchestra in performances of Shostakovich’s First and Seventh symphonies. Recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon, the release received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
On March 15, 16, and 17, 1990, Barenboim led the world premiere performances of composer-in-residence John Corigliano’s Symphony no. 1, commissioned for the Orchestra. The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—was awarded two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition.
The recording of Bartók’s The Wooden Prince and Cantata profana led by Pierre Boulez for Deutsche Grammophon—recorded on December 19, 20, and 21, 1991—was awarded four 1993 Grammy awards: Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Performance of a Choral Work, and Best Engineered Recording–Classical. (A complete list of Boulez’s recordings with the Orchestra is here and his complete Grammy awards are here.)
Between 1993 and 1996, Levine led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Disney‘s feature film Fantasia 2000. The movie was released on January 1, 2000.
Shortly after being named the Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, Boulez led sessions for Varèse’s Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation in December 1995 and 1996. The Deutsche Grammophon release was awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
In May 1997 at Medinah Temple, the Orchestra recorded Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and The Three-Cornered Hat for Teldec. For Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Barenboim was piano soloist and Plácido Domingo conducted; for The Three-Cornered Hat, Jennifer Larmore was mezzo-soprano soloist and Barenboim conducted.
A former Youth Auditions winner and member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Rachel Barton recorded Brahms’s and Joachim’s violin concertos for Cedille Records on July 2 and 3, 2002. Carlos Kalmar conducted.
In his first concerts as principal conductor on October 19, 20, and 21, 2006, Bernard Haitink led the Orchestra, women of the Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), the Chicago Children’s Choir, and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Third Symphony. The work is recorded as the inaugural release on CSO Resound.
In May 2008, Haitink and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony for CSO Resound. The release was awarded the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
Boulez led the Orchestra in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Symphony in Three Movements, and Four Studies in February and March 2009 for CSO Resound. Soloists in the Pulcinella were Roxana Constantinescu, Nicholas Phan, and Kyle Ketelsen.
On January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, Riccardo Muti—in his first concerts as music director designate—led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov) in Verdi’s Requiem. The subsequent CSO Resound recording was awarded 2010 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance.
Following his first concert as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s tenth music director (for more than 25,000 people in Millennium Park) in September 2010, Muti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Gérard Depardieu, Mario Zeffiri, and Kyle Ketelsen) in Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Lélio. The two-disc set was released on CSO Resound in September 2015.
On April 7, 9, and 12, 2011, Muti led concert performances—recorded by CSO Resound—of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall. Along with the Orchestra, Chorus, and Chicago Children’s Chorus, soloists included Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role, Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, and Carlo Guelfi as Iago.
In February 2012, Muti led world premieres by the Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence: Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry and Mason Bates’s Alternative Energy. Both works were recorded for CSO Resound and released as digital downloads.
For Sony Classical, composer John Williams led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Orchestra Hall for his soundtrack for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise.
Cheers to the next 100!
On August 28, 1989, in London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sir Georg Solti led the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in its European debut—in Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Soloists included mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, tenor Keith Lewis, bass-baritone José van Dam, and bass Peter Rose.
“I doubt that there will be a better Prom this year,” wrote Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent. “The sheer accuracy of the playing is astounding. . . . The crispness of the rhythms, the ability to switch mood in a phrase, ran throughout the ensemble— and of course when excitement or shock was needed, it sprang out instantly at Solti’s slightest indication, providing marvelous evidence of a long and deep relationship between instruments and conductor in which little needed to be said or shown for everything meant to be instantly understood. . . . And what a chorus the Chicago Symphony has, to comply with Solti’s needs, youthful, beautiful in tone and robust in attack, every word totally clear, understood and stylishly enunciated. Well, Solti’s chorus master is Margaret Hillis—simply the best.”
The Orchestra and Chorus also performed Berlioz’s Faust on August 30 in Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus, and Solti and the Orchestra continued on through Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands before returning to London’s Royal Albert Hall* for the final concert of the tour on September 18.
The August 28 concert was recorded for television broadcast and later released by London Records on video.
Also for London, Solti conducted the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, tenor Kenneth Riegel, bass-baritone José van Dam, and bass Malcolm King) in recording sessions of The Damnation of Faust in May 1981 at Medinah Temple. The recording was awarded the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Choral.
*The September 18 concert originally had been scheduled for London’s Royal Festival Hall. As a result of a pay dispute earlier that month, there was the prospect of a strike between the unions representing the technicians and box office staff and management at South Bank Centre. The concert was moved to Royal Albert Hall to avoid the possibility of Orchestra musicians crossing picket lines.
This article also appears here.
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.
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.
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.”
Using a single Telefunken condenser microphone—hung twenty-five feet directly above the conductor’s podium—Mercury recorded Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on April 23, 1951, at Orchestra Hall. Rafael Kubelík, in his first season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s fifth music director, conducted, and Adolph Herseth, principal trumpet since 1948, performed the opening fanfare. The recording was the inaugural release on Mercury’s Living Presence series.
In 1996, the original masters were used to transfer the recording to compact disc. In the liner notes for the Mercury rerelease, Robert C. Marsh commented that the original discs “represented the highest state of the art in monophonic recording technique. Hearing them again, some forty-five years later, one is still astonished by the degree to which they project the performers into the presence of the listener, a phenomenon noted in the early reviews by New York Times critic Howard Taubman [who originally coined the phrase ‘living presence’]. . . . Indeed, heard over multiple speaker systems there have always been passages in these recordings in which one is easily convinced that he is, in fact, listening to stereo. The balance, clarity, and texture of the music is so beautifully preserved, the dynamic range is so wide and so free of the compression often associated with monophonic records, that it is difficult to accept that all this sound comes from a monophonic source.”
The Orchestra also recorded Pictures in 1957 for RCA with Fritz Reiner conducting, in 1967 for RCA with Seiji Ozawa, in 1976 for Deutsche Grammophon with Carlo Maria Giulini, in 1980 for London Records with Sir Georg Solti, and in 1989 for Chandos with Neeme Järvi. The Reiner and Järvi versions were recorded at Orchestra Hall; Ozawa, Giulini, and Solti recorded at Medinah Temple. A performance video recorded at Suntory Hall in Tokyo on April 15, 1990—which also included an introduction with Solti performing examples at the piano and in rehearsal with the Orchestra—was released by London. On all recordings, Herseth performed the opening fanfare.
This article also appears here.