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Widely considered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest interpreters of Beethoven—and the first pianist to record that composer’s complete cycle of sonatas—Artur Schnabel is the subject of the latest release from RCA Red Seal Records (a division of Sony Classical). Bringing together all of his sessions for RCA Victor (recorded between June 16 and July 24, 1942), the two-disc set features Schnabel performing Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth piano concertos—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under second music director Frederick Stock—and two of the final piano sonatas (nos. 30 in E major and 32 in C minor), along with Schubert’s Four Impromptus, D. 899.

Schnabel had appeared with the Orchestra and George Szell at the Ravinia Festival in July 1942, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 (July 11) and no. 5 (July 18) along with Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 24 (July 14) and Brahms’s Piano Concerto no. 2 (July 16). Less than two weeks later, he and the ensemble—this time with Stock—were in Orchestra Hall to record Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on July 22 and the Fourth on July 24.

Frederick Stock and Artur Schnabel onstage at Orchestra Hall in July 1942 (Chicago Sun-Times photo)

To coincide with the release of the recordings, the pianist was to return to Chicago later that fall for performances of both concertos under Stock. Sadly, the Orchestra’s second music director died unexpectedly on October 20, 1942, just after the start of the fifty-second season. As scheduled, Schnabel performed Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto on November 24 and the Fourth on November 26 and 27, but under the baton of associate conductor Hans Lange.

Victor Records released Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (eight sides on four 78 rpm discs) also in late November. “It would be easy for Chicagoans to turn sentimental about such an album and to gloss over flaws with affection. But it isn’t necessary—in fact, it would be unpardonable condescension. For the performance is magnificent, with the boldness of authoritative style and the clairvoyance of ideal cooperation. It is recorded with superb accuracy, and with intelligent care for spacing, so the ear isn’t left hanging on a phrase while you turn a record,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “I came to the conclusion that the piano never has been more successfully recorded. Schnabel’s tone is there in quality, dimensions, and that brilliance of attack that means absolute security. . . . Mr. Stock’s accompaniment is typical of what Chicago took for granted for many a rich season.”

“In the Emperor, Schnabel italicizes phrase groupings and points up harmonic felicities in a more angular, nuanced, personalized, and arguably eccentric manner than in his earlier and later studio versions,” writes Jed Distler in the liner notes for this latest release. In the Fourth Concerto, the pianist, “offsets his stinging inflections with gorgeously limpid and poetically shaded runs, roulades, and passagework, and the most subtle transitions.”

The set is available for purchase from the CSO’s Symphony Store.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

RCA Red Seal Records (a division of Sony Classical) is releasing a set of complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings—some available for the first time on CD—led by Seiji Ozawa, recorded during his tenure as the first music director of the Ravinia Festival from 1964 until 1968.

“With the success of [Fritz] Reiner’s CSO recordings, RCA was eager to continue expanding its catalog with the Orchestra, and the label wasted no time engaging both [Jean] Martinon (who began his tenure as the orchestra’s seventh music director in 1963) and Ozawa,” writes Frank Villella in the liner notes for the set. “Martinon first recorded with the Orchestra for RCA in November 1964, and Ozawa’s first recording—Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto with [seventeen-year-old Peter] Serkin—was made at Orchestra Hall in June 1965.”

Additional highlights from the set include Serkin performing Bartók’s First Piano Concerto and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, one of the seven recordings of the Orchestra performing Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth symphonies, and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, among others.

When Ozawa announced that he would step down as the Festival’s music director, he said that “Ravinia was the first organization to invite me to be its music director. Without the belief you had in me, I do not think I would have any career at this moment. The Chicago Symphony is one of the greatest orchestras I have ever conducted, and I have had no greater glory in music than I have experienced here.”

The set is available for pre-order via the Symphony Store here. It will be available domestically on April 21, 2017.

horowitz-cover

All of a sudden, Vladimir Horowitz is everywhere. Especially in Chicago.

In addition to Deutsche Grammophon releasing Horowitz: Return to Chicago, Sony Classical has issued a set of the pianist’s unreleased live recital recordings, covering thirteen programs recorded at twenty-five concerts in fourteen different venues between 1966 and 1983. And four of those concerts were recorded in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, on May 12, 1968; November 2, 1975; and April 8 and 15, 1979.

Program book cover for November 2, 1975

November 2, 1975, program book cover

These live recordings were made by Columbia Masterworks (1966–1968) and RCA Red Seal (1975–1983), and—with the exception of a few tracks released on compilation albums—the vast majority of the material has never been previously available. The fifty-disc set recently was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.

“Vladimir Horowitz’s piano technique is so comprehensive that it diminishes everyone else,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune, following the November 1975 performance, presented under the auspices of Allied Arts. “When he summons the power and clangor for bravura passages, the other powerhouses by comparison sound like lightweights. But when he relaxes into pellucid cascades of an impressionist Liszt tone poem, other light-fingered specialists seem to have developed fingers of lead. . . . Horowitz is not only in a class by himself, he is apparently indestructible. Ten years after his return to the concert stage, the seventy-one-year-old virtuoso has the endurance, the control, and the coiled-spring presence to make each appearance an unforgettable event. . . . Horowitz today is as much a giant as ever.”

November 2, 1975

November 2, 1975

In addition to the works on the program, the audience—including an extra 150 on the stage—demanded no less than six encores: Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen; Scarlatti’s Sonata in A major, K. 322; Moszkowski’s Étincelles; Chopin’s Black Key Etude in G-flat major, op. 10, no. 5 and Mazurka in A minor, op. 17, no. 4; and finally Rachmaninov’s Étude-Tableaux in D major, op. 39, no. 9. All are included on the release.

Gould set

RCA Red Seal Records (now a division of Sony Masterworks) has just released the complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings—some available for the first time on CD—led by Morton Gould, a frequent and favorite guest conductor in the 1960s.

“This set of recordings documents an unusual relationship Gould had with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” writes Alan G. Artner in the set’s liner notes. “[This] collection represents something close to the height of Gould’s work in the recording studio, made with the finest orchestra he conducted, taking chances with a good deal of music just being discovered in that adventurous, bygone time.”

Highlights of the six-CD set include several works by Ives, including The Unanswered Question, Variations on America, Robert Browning Overture, Putnam’s Camp, the first recording of Orchestral Set no. 2, and the Symphony no. 1 (which won the 1966 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical). Also featured are Rimsky-Korsakov’s Antar Symphony, Miaskovsky’s Symphony no. 21, several waltzes by Tchaikovsky, Copland’s Dance Symphony, Gould’s Spirituals for Orchestra, and two works by Nielsen: the Symphony no. 2 and Clarinet Concerto featuring Benny Goodman. A special bonus track is Goodman performing Gould’s arrangement of Fred Fisher’s song Chicago (previously only available on LP, released in conjunction with the CSO’s second Marathon fundraiser in 1977).

In 1985, the Chicago Symphony gave the world premiere of Gould’s Flute Concerto, commissioned for the Orchestra, principal flute Donald Peck, and music director Sir Georg Solti. In the program note, the composer recalled, “Among my most pleasant memories are those years when I was guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

Martinon RCA set

RCA Red Seal Records (now a division of Sony Masterworks) recently released the complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings—some available for the first time on CD—led by our seventh music director Jean Martinon. (The set has not yet been released in the United States but is available from several European and Japanese distributors.)

“It’s always a very delicate and perilous business for a conductor to take over a renowned orchestra that has just passed through a glorious and legendary era under a charismatic predecessor,” writes Christoph Schlüren in the accompanying booklet, referring to Martinon succeeding Fritz Reiner. “Martinon was not blessed by fate in Chicago. The problem was not that the orchestra failed to appreciate him, nor that the ensemble’s outstanding level dropped under his leadership. The surviving recordings are no less brilliant than Reiner’s. . . . In any event, the standard view that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra did not really get going until Martinon gave way to Georg Solti is true only with regard to its commercial success and resultant worldwide fame, not to the perfection of its playing.”

Clark Brody, Williard Elliot, Donald Peck, Dale Clevenger, Jean Martinon, Ray Still, Adolph  Herseth, Donald Koss, Jay Friedman -

CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Williard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn), Martinon, Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone) backstage in February 1966 before a performance of Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra

The set includes a number of works, most notably Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra (featuring several CSO principal players); Mennin’s Symphony no. 7; Varèse’s Arcana; and Weber’s Clarinet Concertos nos. 1 and 2 with Benny Goodman. Additionally, two very special works are heard: an arrangement of Paganini’s Moto perpetuo as arranged by the CSO’s second music director Frederick Stock (according to Schlüren, “wittily peppered with fragments from the finale of [Beethoven’s] Eroica“) as well as Martinon’s own Symphony no. 4 (Altitudes), commissioned for the Orchestra’s seventy-fifth season. And similar to the previously issued Reiner set, the booklet includes numerous images from the collections of the Rosenthal Archives.

Reiner memorial insert front cover

Reiner memorial insert front cover

Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He canceled his remaining appearances for the calendar year to recuperate and was able to return to the CSO podium in March 1961 to lead the season’s final five weeks of concerts. However, his health continued to decline and he was forced to curtail many of his conducting duties, and it was announced on April 20, 1962, that he would become “musical adviser” for the 1962-63 season. Two weeks later on May 3, The Orchestral Association announced that Jean Martinon would become the Orchestra’s seventh music director beginning with the 1963-64 season.

As musical adviser, Reiner was scheduled to conduct seven weeks of subscription concerts in December 1962 and February, March, and April 1963. On April 18, 19, and 20, he led Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, Brahms’s Second Symphony, and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Van Cliburn as soloist (the Beethoven was recorded by RCA on April 22 and 23; see here and here for more information). Reiner was scheduled to close the season on May 2 and 3 with an extensive all-Wagner program (featuring several excerpts from Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Die Walküre, and Götterdämmerung); however, the CSO press office announced on Monday, April 29 that “on the advice of his physician, Fritz Reiner must withdraw from this week’s concerts.”

Reiner retreated over the summer and arrived in New York in October to begin rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera, scheduled to open on November 14. However, he fell ill with bronchitis on November 11 and withdrew from the production, being replaced by Joseph Rosenstock. Reiner’s condition gradually worsened and he succumbed to pneumonia on November 15, 1963, at the age of 74 (his Chicago Tribune obituary, written by Claudia Cassidy, is here).

On Saturday evening, November 16, Martinon led the Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Overture, his own Second Violin Concerto with Henryk Szerying, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. According to the Sunday, November 17 Chicago Tribune: “Orchestra Hall, filled for a golden decade with the music conducted by Dr. Fritz Reiner, was silent for a minute Saturday night as the audience and musicians bowed heads in tribute to his memory.” Merrill Shepard, the new president of the Association, had signaled the moment of silence.

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Funeral services were given on November 18 in New York. Attendees included Reiner’s former student at the Curtis Institute and music director of the New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein, tenor Lauritz Melchior, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Rudolf Bing, impresario Sol Hurok, and Van Cliburn. William Schuman, composer and then-president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, delivered the eulogy, calling Reiner, an “artist who set an example for all his colleagues.”

Martinon had programmed the Thanksgiving week concerts (on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, November 28 and 29) to include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem (Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus had been rehearsing the two works since early September). Reiner’s seventy-fifth birthday—December 19, 1963—was to have been celebrated with him leading the Orchestra in four weeks of subscription concerts in late December and early January. It was only appropriate to designate the Stravinsky and Mozart concerts as memorials to Reiner, and the program page for the November 21 and 22 concerts included an announcement. A four-page program insert was prepared to be used for the following week’s concerts and included tributes from Martinon and Shepard, a chronology of Reiner’s career, and a list of his previous orchestral affiliations.

On Thursday evening November 21, Martinon led Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis. The program was scheduled to be repeated the following afternoon, Friday, November 22, 1963.

Stay tuned for part 2 . . .

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert back cover

Reiner memorial insert back cover

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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Theodore Thomas

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