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Reiner CSO CD set

RCA Red Seal Records (now a division of Sony Masterworks) has just released—for the first time as a set—the complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings led by our sixth music director, the legendary Fritz Reiner. The sixty-three discs are beautifully presented in replicas of the original album jackets (front and back), spanning the recording of Richard Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Also sprach Zarathustra, recorded in March 1954, through Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 with Van Cliburn, recorded in April 1963.

The beautifully packaged set includes a detailed booklet with repertoire and recording details, along with an excellent article by Kenneth Morgan (author of Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet).

The set also includes Reiner’s last recording (made in September 1963, barely two months before his death): Haydn’s Symphonies nos. 95 and 101. The ensemble is billed as “Fritz Reiner and his Symphony Orchestra,” which included musicians from “the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Symphony of the Air (formerly NBC Symphony), and others.”

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Announcement for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Wagner's Tannhäuser on December 17, 1960.

On December 17, 1960, Georg Solti made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducting the Paris version of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The cast included Leonie Rysanek, Irene Dalis, Hans Hopf, Jerome Hines, and the house debut of Hermann Prey. (Twenty-two-year-old Teresa Stratas was scheduled to perform as the Shepherd, but she was replaced by Mildred Allen.)

According to Robert Sabin, reporting for Musical America: “In some ways, Tannhäuser is a severer challenge to the conductor than the Ring operas or Wagner’s other mature masterpieces, but Mr. Solti had solved every one of its ticklish problems of tempo, balance, phrasing and dramatic emphasis. Most notable were the fluidity of his tempos, the transparence of texture he achieved and the emotional vitality of his conception. True, the Bacchanale was pale and certain of the ensembles could have been weightier and more majestic. But this was a price willingly paid for the flow and clarity of Mr. Solti’s conception. He kept the audience absorbed every minute up to the last note and he richly deserved the prolonged ovations he received (in which the orchestra, be it noted, joined).”

The incredible MetOpera Database indicates that Solti conducted a total of thirty-seven performances with the company, including Tristan und Isolde, Otello, Boris Godunov, Aida, and Don Carlo. His final performances were two special concerts on March 27 and 28, 1964, given in memory of John F. Kennedy, that included a scene from Parsifal (with Jess Thomas, Jerome Hines, and Marcia Baldwin) and Verdi’s Requiem (with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Carlo Bergonzi, Cesare Siepi, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus).

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Theodore Thomas

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