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Title page of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

Regarding the Third Symphony, “Beethoven, now fully emancipated from the preceding era, may be said for the first time to stand forth and show his lion’s paw!” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “In my judgment, the Eroica is only a perfectly legitimate step forward, a logical sequence in his normal development. . . . His soul now began to long to express that which had never before been said in music—anticipating centuries; hence this symphony, the first dawn of modern music, written in a definite mood, giving expression to the soul through color and contrast rather than attempting to illustrate a specific program.”

1954 recording (RCA)

“The Eroica is perhaps the first great symphony to have captured the romantic imagination,” according to CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Beethoven’s vast and powerful first movement and the funeral march that follows must have sounded like nothing else in all music. Never before had symphonic music aspired to these dimensions. . . . Beethoven’s Allegro con brio was longer—and bigger, in every sense—than any other symphonic movement at the time (the first movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony comes the closest). It’s also a question of proportion, and Beethoven’s central development section, abounding in some truly monumental statements, is enormous.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Third Symphony during the first season, on January 12, 1892, at The Odeon in Cincinnati and later that week in Chicago on January 15 and 16 at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973–74 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on December 4, 1954. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer.

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. The Third Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5, 6, and 9, 1973, and May 18, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Third Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 6 and 8, 1989. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

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Title page of Beethoven’s First Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

In Beethoven’s First Symphony, “the composer tries his wings,” according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director. In Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies, Thomas continues: “It is sometimes said that the First Symphony is Haydn and Mozart rather than Beethoven, but that is not correct. It is Beethoven, pure and simple, but Beethoven carrying on the art of his day as it had been transmitted to him by his predecessors. He knew no other style of symphonic writing because, until his own later development, there was no other. . . . One might say that Haydn and Mozart were the cradle in which the art of Beethoven was rocked, and in the First Symphony, his art was still in this cradle. . . . [The First Symphony] is a noble work and is of especial interest as the connecting link between the art of the classic and that of the romantic period.”

1961 recording (RCA)

CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher agrees. “As the first symphony by the greatest symphonist who ever lived, one might expect clues of the daring and novelty to come; since it was written at the turn of the century and premiered in Vienna, the great musical capital, in 1800, one might assume that it is with this work that Beethoven opened a new era in music. But, in fact, this symphony belongs to the eighteenth, not the nineteenth, century; it honors the tradition of Mozart, dead less than a decade, and Haydn, who had given Beethoven enough lessons to know that his student would soon set out on his own.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s First Symphony during the third season, on May 4 and 5, 1894, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on May 8, 1961. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

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. The First Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 14, 15, and 18, 1974 (along with the Second Symphony). Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989-90 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The First Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 14 and 16, 1989, and January 27, 1990 (along with the Second Symphony). Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

Wishing a very happy eightieth birthday to the wonderful Welsh bass, Gwynne Howell!

Gwynne Howell (Guy Gravett photo)

Howell has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions and on several award-winning recordings between 1974 and 1990. A complete list is below (concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted).

April 12 and 13, 1974
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Heather Harper, soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
Jerry Jennings, tenor
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

April 24 and 26, 1975
April 30, 1975 (Carnegie Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

January 29, 30, and 31, 1976
STRAVINSKY Oedipus Rex
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Peter Pears, tenor
Josephine Veasey, mezzo-soprano
Donald Gramm, bass-baritone
Gwynne Howell, bass
Mallory Walker, tenor
Dominic Cossa, baritone
Werner Klemperer, narrator
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director

May 5, 6, and 7, 1977
May 13, 1977 (Carnegie Hall)
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis, 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
The work was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple on May 16, 17, and 18, 1977. For London Records, 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.

May 10 and 12, 1979
May 19, 1979 (Carnegie Hall)
BEETHOVEN Fidelio, Op. 72
Hildegard Behrens, soprano
Sona Ghazarian, soprano
Peter Hofmann, tenor
David Kübler, tenor
Theo Adam, baritone
Hans Sotin, bass
Gwynne Howell, bass
Robert Johnson, tenor
Philip Kraus, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director
The opera was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1979. For London Records, Ray Minshull was the producer, Michael Haas was the assistant producer, and James Lock, David Frost, and Tony Griffiths were the engineers.

April 7, 9, and 12, 1983
April 18, 1983 (Carnegie Hall)
WAGNER Das Rheingold
Siegmund Nimsgern, bass-baritone
Hermann Becht, baritone
Gabriele Schnaut, mezzo-soprano
Siegfried Jerusalem, tenor
Robert Tear, tenor
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
Malcolm Smith, bass
Gwynne Howell, bass
Mary Jane Johnson, soprano
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Dennis Bailey, tenor
Michelle Harman-Gulick, soprano
Elizabeth Hynes, soprano
Emily Golden, mezzo-soprano

September 27, 28, and 29, 1984
HANDEL Messiah
Elizabeth Hynes, soprano
Anne Gjevang, contralto
Keith Lewis, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
David Schrader, harpsichord
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
The work was recorded in Orchestra Hall on October 1, 2, and 9, 1984. For London Records, Ray Minshull was the producer, and James Lock and Simon Eadon were balance engineers.

January 25, 26, and 28, 1990
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Felicity Lott, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor
William Shimell, baritone
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
The work was recorded on January 25, 26, and 28, 1990, in Orchestra Hall. For London Records, Michael Haas was the recording producer, and Stanley Goodall and Simon Eadon were the balance engineers. The recording won the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Performance of a Choral Work from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Check out the video below, produced by Wild Plum Arts, in which Howell talks about working with Solti and many others.

Happy, happy birthday!

Under the leadership of chorus directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe, the Chicago Symphony Chorus has won ten Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the category of Best Choral Performance.*

Recordings have been led by music directors Sir Georg Solti and Riccardo Muti, principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez, and Ravinia Festival music director James Levine on RCA, London, Deutsche Grammophon, and CSO Resound.

1977 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on June 1 and 2, 1977, for RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
Paul Goodman, recording engineer

1978 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
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
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 16, 17, and 18, 1977, for London
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes, balance engineers

1979 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Bernd Weikl, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 15 and 16, 1978, for London
James Mallinson, recording producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and Colin Moorfoot, balance engineers

1982 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1981, for London
James Mallinson, recording producer
James Lock and Simon Eadon, balance engineers

1983 – Best Choral Performance
HAYDN The Creation
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Sylvia Greenberg, soprano
Norma Burrowes, soprano
Rudiger Wohlers, tenor
James Morris, bass-baritone
Siegmund Nimsgern, bass
David Schrader, harpsichord
Frank Miller, cello
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 9, 10, and 11, 1981, for London
Paul Myers, recording producer
James Lock and John Dunkerley, balance engineers

1984 – Best Choral Performance
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Håkan Hagegård, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 5 and 6, 1983, for RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
Paul Goodman, recording engineer
John Newton and Thomas MacCluskey, engineers

1986 – Best Choral Performance
ORFF Carmina burana
James Levine, conductor
June Anderson, soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Bernd Weikl, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon
Steven Paul, producer
Cord Garben, recording supervisor
Klaus Scheibe, recording engineer
Jürgen Bulgrin, editing

1991 – Best Performance of a Choral Work
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Felicity Lott, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor
William Shimmell, baritone
Gwynne Howell, bass
Richard Webster, organ
John Sharp, cello
Willard Elliot, bassoon
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 25, 26, and 28, 1990, for London
Michael Haas, recording producer
Stanley Goodall and Simon Eadon, balance engineers

1993 – Best Performance of a Choral Work
BARTÓK Cantata profana
Pierre Boulez, conductor
John Aler, tenor
John Tomlinson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on December 16, 1991, for Deutsche Grammophon
Alison Ames, executive producer
Karl-August Naegler, recording producer
Rainer Maillard, balance engineer
Oliver Rosalla, editing

2010 – Best Choral Performance
VERDI Messa da Requiem
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Barbara Frittoli, soprano
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Mario Zeffiri, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, for CSO Resound
Christopher Alder, producer
Christopher Willis, recording engineer
David Frost and Tom Lazarus, mixing
Silas Brown and David Frost, stereo mastering

*The name of the category has changed slightly over the years; see here for details.

____________________________________________________

The work most closely identified with Sir Georg Solti’s tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra would arguably be Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

During his final season as music director, Solti and the Orchestra recorded Mahler’s Fifth a second time for London Records. The work was recorded live in concert at the Musikverein in Vienna on November 30, 1990, during the Orchestra’s tour to Russia, Hungary, and Austria.

For London, Michael Haas was the producer, Stanley Goodall was the engineer, and Matthew Hutchinson was the tape editor.

In his Memoirs, Solti wrote: “it was Mahler’s Fifth which I shall always associate with the Chicago Symphony. It was part of our first tour program together, to Carnegie Hall in New York [in January 1970]. We went with a certain trepidation, not knowing how New Yorkers would receive us, as we were still an unknown quantity. When we finished the last movement, the audience stood up and screamed hysterically as if it were a rock concert. The applause seemed endless; they had fallen under the spell of our exceptional performance. I had never experienced such an overwhelming phenomenon in my life and probably never will again.” (Shortly after the concert in New York, the symphony was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple in March 1970.)

In the second edition of Paul Robinson’s Solti, the author stated: “In November 1990, Solti and the CSO toured Europe to great acclaim. In Vienna their program included the Mahler Fifth and the Decca engineers were there to record the event for posterity. It turned out to be an even finer recording than the one they had made in Chicago twenty years before. The virtuosity is on the same high level but there is a depth of feeling, particularly in the Adagietto, that is quite striking. The sound quality is also remarkable, taking advantage of the latest in digital technology. There are numerous subtleties of soft playing only hinted at in the earlier recording. One of Mahler’s most original touches of orchestration is the use of a tam-tam in the second movement. It is marked piano and in most recordings it is simply not audible. But in this one it has an altogether distinctive presence that colors the whole texture of the music. Wonderful! There are times when one misses the expansiveness of expression that is so moving in the [Leonard] Bernstein or [Herbert von] Karajan recordings, but this is nonetheless one of [the] best documentations of Solti and the CSO in their prime together.”

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Theodore Thomas

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