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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
On October 23 and 24, 1952, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the music most closely associated with his native Czechoslovakia, Smetana’s Má vlast.
“Smetana’s My Country is regarded in Kubelík’s Czechoslovakia with a reverence which rises superior to admiration and becomes a symbol of patriotic love,” wrote Felix Borowski in the Chicago Sun-Times. He continued that Kubelík’s interpretation “transcended mere music making. It was an impressive, even jubilant, rite. . . . It was evident that Orchestra Hall realized that this concert was more than ordinarily important to its conductor. Kubelík never previously had led his orchestra with so much outward disclosure of inspiration, nor indeed, had the players responded with so much zest. . . . The Moldau was received with notable enthusiasm, and this was as it should be, for the work rarely has been given with so much color and brilliance of effect.”
On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.
John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune called Kubelík’s third complete cycle with the Orchestra “his finest. One has only to compare it with the famous recording of Má vlast he made with the Chicago Symphony in 1952 at the start of his final season as CSO music director. In every respect the present performance was superior, not just because Kubelík is a more searching interpreter than he was thirty-one years ago, but also because the Orchestra responds with so much more skill and understanding. And why not? Kubelík taught them the style.”
This article also appears here.
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!
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.
Happy (almost) 100th birthday, maestro!
Rafael Kubelík and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made a series of landmark recordings in Orchestra Hall for Mercury Records during our fifth music director’s brief tenure. A complete list of those recordings is below.
BARTÓK Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta
BLOCH Concerto grosso No. 1
George Schick, piano
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)
HINDEMITH Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber
MOZART Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338
MOZART Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 (Prague)
MUSSORGSKY/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition
SCHOENBERG Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16
SMETANA Má Vlast
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)
On its From the Archives series, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra also released several Kubelík-conducted works, all originally recorded for radio broadcast between 1950 and 1991.
BRITTEN Sinfonia da requiem, Op. 24
November 3 and 4, 1983
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6 in A Major
December 9 & 11, 1982
DELLO JOIO Variations, Chaconne, and Finale
December 2 & 5, 1982
DVOŘÁK Husitzká Overture, Op. 67
October 18, 1991
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
December 8, 1966
HARRIS Symphony No. 5
December 2 & 5, 1982
KUBELÍK Sequences for Orchestra
November 9, 1980
MARTINŮ Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani
March 20 & 22, 1980
Mary Sauer, piano
Donald Koss, timpani
MOZART Finale (Allegro) from Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, K. 447
September 27, 1950
Philip Farkas, horn
MOZART Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477
March 15, 1980
MOZART Mass in C Major, K. 317 (Coronation)
March 15, 1980
Lucia Popp, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Oliver, tenor
Malcolm King, bass
RAVEL Le tombeau de Couperin
November 3 and 4, 1983
ROSSINI Overture to Tancredi
November 27, 1951
ROUSSEL Symphony No. 3 in G Minor, Op. 42
November 3, 4, & 6, 1983
(Released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years)
SUK Meditations on an Ancient Czech Chorale, Op. 35 (Holy Wenceslaus)
December 25, 1951
WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
December 22 and 23, 1966
WALTON Belshazzar’s Feast
March 30, 1952 (University of Illinois Auditorium; Urbana, Illinois)
Nelson Leonard, baritone
University of Illinois Choir and Men’s Glee Club
Paul Young, director
University of Illinois Women’s Glee Club
John Bryden, director
University of Illinois Brass Bands
Lyman Starr and Haskell Sexton, directors