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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the three most acclaimed orchestras in America at the end of the century (the others being the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and one of the few serious rivals that the New York Philharmonic has had in its long history. Curiously, the histories of the two orchestras are somewhat intermingled.

Theodore Thomas had organized and led orchestras in New York during the 1870s and 1880s, competing with the Philharmonic Society of New York for audiences, soloists, and American premieres of works. His orchestra did very well as a major rival to the orchestra that would become the New York Philharmonic. The orchestra had visited Chicago for a number of seasons, and it was intended that he would be music director of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in that city. In 1891, however, he abandoned New York entirely in favor of Chicago, and arrived as the first conductor of what was then called the Chicago Orchestra. Thomas held that position until his death in 1905. In his honor, the Chicago Orchestra was renamed the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1906. Six years later, the orchestra was renamed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

It was under the leadership of Thomas' assistant, Frederick Stock, that the Chicago Symphony's modern reputation was formed. From 1905 until his death in 1942, Stock led the orchestra in decades of programs that featured not only the established classics but the American premieres of many post-romantic works. Additionally, Stock raised the level of performing and the financial status of his players, and established the orchestra in a major teaching role for aspiring musicians in its home city. Their recordings were relatively few in number, because the long-playing record -- central to the appreciation of classical music -- had not yet been invented, which means there is little evidence by which modern listeners can judge the work of the orchestra during this period, but some of the recordings from that era were among the best in the world at the time. Among the few available from the period on major labels are the Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5 as performed by Arthur Schnabel, with Stock conducting, on BMG.

Stock's death in 1942 precipitated a difficult decade for the orchestra. Apart from the general complications of World War II, they had a great deal of trouble finding acceptable leadership. Desire Defauw lasted for only four years, from 1943 until 1947, and Artur Rodzinski (best known for his leadership of the New York Philharmonic) was in the job for only one year, 1947 and 1948. Youthful, Czech-born Rafael Kubelik served three years as music director from 1950 until 1953, but his gentlemanly manner and decidedly modern, European-centered taste in music proved unsuited to the players, critics and management -- although it was under Kubelik that the orchestra made its first successful modern recordings, for the Mercury label, many of which are finally being reissued in the mid-1990s.

Finally, in 1953, Fritz Reiner became the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Thus began the modern renaissance and blossoming of the orchestra. Under Reiner, the orchestra's playing sharpened and tightened, achieving a clean, precise, yet rich sound that made it one of the most popular orchestras in the United States. The Chicago Symphony under Reiner became established once and for all as an international-level orchestra of the first order, rivaling the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony.

Moreover, Reiner's arrival with the orchestra coincided with its move to RCA Victor Records, which, in 1954, was beginning to experiment with stereo recording. With Reiner as conductor, these "Living Stereo" recordings -- characterized by vivid textures, sharp stereo separation, and microphone placement that gave the impact of a live performance -- became some of the best-selling classical albums of all time, and have since been reissued numerous times on compact disc to new acclaim from critics and listeners, more than a generation removed from their original era.

Reiner's death in 1963 led to another interregnum period, during which the French conductor Jean Martinon led the orchestra (1963-68). Finally, in 1969, Sir Georg Solti joined the orchestra as its music director. Under Solti, the orchestra's national and international reputations soared, as did their record sales. Reiner had begun the process of cultivating the burgeoning audience for late romantic composers such as Mahler, but it was with Solti that the works of Mahler and Bruckner became standard fare in the orchestra's programs, right alongside those of Beethoven and Mozart. The playing standard achieved during Solti's tenure, in concert and on record, was the highest in the history of the orchestra. Additionally, the orchestra under Solti began a quarter-century relationship with London Records that resulted some of the best-sounding recordings of their era.

Solti's approach to performance is very flamboyant yet intensely serious -- even his performances of lighter opera and concert overtures strike a perfect balance between broad gestures and finely wrought detail, attributes that have made him perhaps the most admired conductor of a major American orchestra, if not the most famous (Leonard Bernstein in New York inevitably got more headlines, especially with his knack for publicity, during the 1960s). He is both popular and respected, and his tenure with the Chicago Symphony coincided with his becoming the winner of the greatest number of Grammy Awards of any musician in history, in any field, although Solti has also recorded with orchestras in London and Vienna.

Currently, the orchestra's music director is Daniel Barenboim, with Solti remaining in the post of music director emeritus. As with other major American orchestras, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has found itself in recent years competing with its own history, especially where recordings are concerned. The compact disc reissues of their work under Reiner and Solti continue to sell well, and are comparable or superior to Chicago's current recordings in sound and interpretive detail. Even their early 1950s work under Rafael Kubelik has been reissued by Mercury Records in the late 1990s, while RCA-BMG and some specialty collector's labels have re-released the Chicago recordings under Frederick Stock. The success of the Reiner and Solti recordings has created a problem for the current Chicago Symphony, even as sales of their classic recordings flourish. ~ Bruce Eder



Note: The recordings of Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are uniformly excellent, and can virtually all be recommended. The same goes for the Chicago recordings with Fritz Reiner, although there are highlights to be considered, listed below.



Reiner cond.:



Bartok Concerto for Orchestra RCA/BMG [8]

Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste [8]



Debussy La Mer RCA/BMG [8]



Mahler Symphony No. 4 RCA/BMG [7]



Strauss Ein Heldenleben RCA/BMG [9]

Also Sprach Zarathustra RCA/BMG [7]



Kubelik cond.:



Mussorgsky Pictures At An Exhibition Mercury [8]



Smetana My Fatherland Mercury [9]
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Alban Berg Collection / Various (Coll)

Disc 1
Composer: Alban Berg
Title: Pieces (3) for orchestra, Op. 6
Title: Lyric Suite, for orchestra (arr. from Nos.2-4 of string quartet version)
Title: Violin Concerto
Disc 2
Title: Chamber Concerto, For Piano, Violin, And 13 Wind Instruments
Title: Piano Sonata, Op. 1
Title: Pieces (4) For Clarinet And Piano, Op. 5
Title: Adagio, For Clarinet, Violin & Piano (arr. Of 2nd Mvt. Of "Chamber Concerto")
Composer: Johann Strauss II
Title: Wein, Weib Und Gesang (Wine, Women And Song), Waltz For Orchestra (With Voice Ad Lib), Op. 333 (Rv 333)
Disc 3
Composer: Alban Berg
Title: Lyric Suite, For String Quartet
Title: String Quartet, Op. 3
Title: Early Songs (7), For Voice & Piano (Or Orchestra)
Title: Schliesse Mir Die Augen Beide, Song For Voice & Piano (2 Settings)
Title: An Leukon, Song For Voice & Piano (from "Jugenlieder")
Title: Schliesse Mir Die Augen Beide, Song For Voice & Piano (2 Settings)
Title: Songs (4) For Voice & Piano, Op. 2
Disc 4
Title: Early Songs (7), For Voice & Piano (Or Orchestra)
Title: Altenberg Lieder, Collection Of 5 Songs For Voice & Orchestra, Op. 4
Title: Der Wein, Concert Aria For Soprano & Orchestra
Title: Lulu-Suite, 5 Symphonic Pieces From The Opera For Soprano & Orchestra ("Lulu-Symphonie")
Disc 5
Title: Lulu, Opera
Disc 6
Disc 7
Title: Wozzeck, Opera, Op. 7
Disc 8
x

Track List: Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live

Composer: William Walton
Title: Crown Imperial, Coronation March For Orchestra
Composer: Giovanni Gabrieli
Title: Sacrae Symphoniae: No. 6: Sonata Pian E Forte For 8 Parts
Title: Sacrae Symphoniae: No. 10: Canzon Duodecimi Toni For 10 Parts
Title: Sacrae Symphoniae: No. 2: Canzon Septimi Toni, For 8 Parts
Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Title: Passacaglia And Fugue, For Organ In C Minor, Bwv 582 (Bc J79)
Composer: Percy Grainger
Title: Lincolnshire Posy, Folk Song Suite For Wind Band (BFMS 34)
Composer: Silvestre Revueltas
Title: Sensemaya, For Orchestra
Composer: Sergey Prokofiev
Title: Romeo And Juliet, Ballet In 4 Acts, Op. 64
x

Track List: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Disc 1
Title: Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg, Opera, Wwv 96
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
x

Track List: John Corigliano: Symphony No. 1 (World Premiere Recording)

x

Track List: Mahler: Symphony No7

Title: Symphony No. 7 In E Minor ("Song Of The Night")
x

Track List: Pictures At An Exhibition, A Night On Bald Mountain And Other Russian Showpieces

Composer: Modest Mussorgsky
Title: Pictures At An Exhibition (Kartinki S Vïstavski), For Orchestra, Orchestrated By Ravel
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Title: Suite No. 1 For Orchestra In D Minor, Op. 43
Composer: Modest Mussorgsky
Title: Night On Bald Mountain (Noch' Na Lïsoy Gore), Symphonic Poem, Edited By Stokowski
Composer: Alexander Borodin
Title: Prince Igor, Opera (Completed By Rimsky-korsakov & Glazunov)
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Title: Slavonic March, For Orchestra, Op. 31
Composer: Dmitry Kabalevsky
Title: Colas Breugnon (Kola Bryun'yon), Suite From The Opera, Op. 24a
Composer: Mikhail Glinka
Title: Overture: Ruslan And Ludmilla, G. Xivov
x

Track List: Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 "Organ"; Danse Macabre; Bacchanale; Le Déluge

x

Track List: Strauss: Don Quixote; Don Juan

Title: Don Quixote, fantastic variations for cello & orchestra, Op. 35 (TrV 184)
Title: Don Juan, Tone Poem For Orchestra, Op. 20 (Trv 156)
x

Track List: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1/Dohnanyi: Variations On A Nursery Song

Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Title: Piano Concerto No. 1 In B Flat Minor, Op. 23
Composer: Ernst von Dohnányi
Title: Variations On A Nursery Song, For Piano & Orchestra, Op. 25
x

Track List: Wagner: Die fliegende Holländer

Disc 1
Title: Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), Opera, Wwv 63
Disc 2

Comments

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www.flesh88
Fabulous Music and well recorded. A must for me to purchase!
Report as inappropriate
walsh.logan
Everything here is perfect.
Report as inappropriate
I've loved this music my whole life. Especially Pictures at an Exhibition.. . . s o beautiful!

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