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The Big Five, Part I: Chicago Symphony Orchestra (FREE)

On this edition of Exploring Music, we begin an examination of the "Big Five" American orchestras by starting with the very, very best of the best: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, considered by critics, musicians, and composers alike to be one of the if not THE finest orchestras in the world.

 
Program 1

The program begins with the opening fanfare from Mahler's Symphony No. 5, played during the ultimate height of the CSO's history, which we will examine later on. We then travel back in time to 1916, to hear the very first recording of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" from A Midsummer Night's Dream conducted by Frederick Stock, the second music director. Sadly, there are no recordings of the CSO with the founding director, Theodore Thomas. There is, however, a recording of a Thomas arrangement of a Wagner song "Träume", from Wesendonk Lieder, which we hear. Next is a recording of a piece composed by Stock himself in 1930: the Symphonic Waltz. We then hear Stock conducting Liadov's Baba-Yaga, excerpts from Brahms' Symphony No. 3, and Reznicek's Overture to Donna Diana in one of the CSO's first RCA recordings. Stock retired in 1942 and was replaced by Desiré Defauw. We hear two recordings with him conducting: Prokofiev's Scythian Suite, third movement, and a piece of Strauss' Death and Transfiguration. Then we stop in on Rodzinski, Defauw's successor, to hear Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries".

Mahler: Symphony No. 5, I (excerpt)
CSO/Solti
Lon 430804
1:34
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Johnson: “Sweet Home Chicago”
Robert Johnson
Sony B000002ADN
1:58
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Mendelssohn: Wedding March fr. Midsummer Night’s Dream
CSO/Stock
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
4:29
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Wagner, arr. Thomas: Träume fr. Wesendonk Lieder
CSO/Stock
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
4:11
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Stock: Symphonic Waltz, Op. 8
CSO/Stock
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
8:41

Liadov: Baba-Yaga, Op. 56
CSO/Stock
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
2:45
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Brahms: Symphony No. 3, II (excerpt), III
CSO/Stock
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
7:52
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Reznicek: Overture to Donna Diana
CSO/Stock
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
4:00
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Prokofiev: Scythian Suite, III
CSO/Defauw
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
5:03
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Strauss: Death and Transfiguration (excerpt)
CSO/Defauw
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
7:25
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Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries
CSO/Rodzinski
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
4:05
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Program 2

We again begin with Mahler's Symphony No. 5, third movement, as we hear about Chicago during the early 20th century. The segment then picks up where the last one left off, with Rodzinski, who directed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for just one year. We hear him conduct Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony No. 3, second movement. Raphael Kubelik, son of legendary violinist Jan Kubelik, was the next director, after a lengthy search for an ideal director. We hear what was a brand-new piece at the time: Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber. Next is Kubelik conducting Suk's Meditations on an Ancient Czech Choral, "Holy Wenceslaus". Kubelik brought many previously unknown pieces to light during his three years with the CSO, but it got him in serious trouble with music critics. The segment then closes out with Kubelik conducting a very famous piece: the Ravel-arranged Mussorgsky composition Pictures at an Exhibition, which showcases the CSO's famous, powerful brass section.

Mahler: Symphony No. 5, III (excerpt)
CSO/Solti
Lon 430804
3:06
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Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3, Scottish, II
CSO/Rodzinski
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
4:00
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Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber
CSO/Kubelik
Mercury 519202
8:15
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Suk: Meditations on an Ancient Czech Choral, “Holy Wenceslaus”
CSO/Kubelik
CSO telecast
6:49

Mussorgsky, arr. Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
CSO/Kubelik
CSO 100th Anniversary box set
28:44
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Program 3

This segment sets the tone early for what we will be listening to: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner, a period in the CSO's history exceeded in quality only by the time of Solti. Both men were students of Béla Bartók. Reiner came to Chicago at the same time RCA did, and so there are a wealth of fabulous recordings, some of which we hear on this segment, which consists entirely of RCA recordings. We begin with a Reiner arrangement of Der Rosenkavalier Waltzes by Richard Strauss, whom Renier was friends with, then move onto a recording referred to Bill by Don Tate at WFMT: "Dawn" and "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Wagner's Götterdämmerung. Next is Brahms' Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D minor, followed by Strauss' "Was willst du, fremder Mensch?" from Elektra. One of the most dramatic portions of the opera, it features chord sets that even Wagner and Berlioz would not touch. The segment then wraps up with more excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier Waltzes.

Strauss, arr. Reiner: Der Rosenkavalier Waltzes (excerpt)
CSO/Reiner
RCA 68160
2:23
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Wagner: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey from Götterdämmerung
CSO/Reiner
RCA 4738
13:15
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Brahms: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1 in d minor, II
CSO/Reiner; Rubenstein, p.
RCA 63034
13:17
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Strauss: “Was willst du, fremder Mensch?” fr. Elektra
CSO/Reiner; Borkh, s.; Schöffler, bar.
RCA 67900
:49, 21:35
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Strauss, arr. Reiner: Der Rosenkavalier Waltzes (excerpt)
CSO/Reiner
RCA 68160
1:56
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Program 4

After Reiner suffered a heart attack, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra sought a replacement that could match his majesty. They found one in Jean Martinon, who had survived World War II and became a big hit in France after the war's end. We hear his Symphony No. 4, which he premiered with the CSO and later guest conducted with the Philadelphia Orchestra...while Bill was part of it! He spent only five years with the CSO before one of the greatest conductors in history came to Chicago: Sir Georg Solti, a Hungarian-born who had studied under Bartók and others, eventually becoming known as an opera conductor. We hear a bit of his opera pedigree by listening to his and the CSO's interpretation of Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture. Next is Solti and the CSO strings playing Bartók's Divertimento for Strings; we hear the finale. We then close out the segment with one of the most powerful pieces ever composed: Mahler's Symphony No. 2 in c minor, "Resurrection". This displays a member of the CSO family we have not heard yet: the Chicago Symphony Chorus. We hear the majestic fifth movement, and listening to this recording we can almost feel the rafters shaking in Orchestra Hall.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade (excerpts)
CSO/Reiner
RCA 68168
1:27
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Martinon: Symphony No. 4, Op. 53, Altitudes (excerpt)
CSO/Martinon
1:18, 11:56

Wagner: Overture fr. Der Fliegende Holländer
CSO/Solti
Lon 460982
11:02
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Bartók: Divertimento for Strings, finale
CSO/Solti
Lon 470516
7:08
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Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in c minor, Resurrection, V (excerpts)
CSO/Solti
Lon 410202
4:51, 13:31
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Program 5

A bit of laughter begins this final segment, accompanying Benny Goodman's clarinet to the tune of "Chicago", with a symphony conducted by Morton Gould. This segment starts by focusing in on individual men and women in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and we quickly move from the King of Swing to master trumpeter Adolf "Bud" Herseth, who plays from the third movement of Haydn's Concerto in Eb Major for Trumpet and Orchestra, third movement. Sadly, Bud Herseth passed away on April 13, 2013, just four days ago from the time of writing this. Next we hear from bassoonist Willard Elliot, principal bassoonist for 33 years, playing Mozart's Concerto in B-flat Major for Bassoon and Orchestra, second movement. Claudio Abbado conducts both of those performances. Dale Clevenger, Thomas Howell, Norman Schweikert, and Norman Oldberg are all next, making up a fantastic horn section. We hear them play the first movement of Schumann's Konzertstück in F Major for 4 Horns and Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting. Barenboim also conducts the next piece, Vaughan Williams' Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra in f minor, second movement. Arnold Jacobs is the soloist, and we hear a short piece of lecture from him afterwards. All of this is merely a taste of the amazing amount of talent contained within the CSO's ranks. Afterwards, we return to the directors with Barenboim, who succeeded the great Solti as music director in 1991, although Solti would stay around until his death a few years later. We hear Barenboim conduct the CSO playing Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra, first movement, and then the finale Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2. Barenboim stayed in the CSO until 2006, when a lengthy search lasting two years took place that resulted in the current director, Ricardo Muti, taking the baton and leading the CSO to this day. Between Barenboim and Muti, however, Bernard Haitink served as principal conductor, and we hear him and the CSO play from Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

Fisher: Chicago
CSO/Gould; Goodman, cl.
CSO 100th Anniversary Box Set
2:33

Haydn: Concerto in Eb Major for Trumpet and Orchestra, III
CSO/Abbado; Herseth, tpt.
DG B000002502
4:38
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Mozart: Concerto in B-flat Major for Bassoon and Orchestra, II
CSO/Abbado; Elliot, bsn.
DG B000002502
6:19
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Schumann: Konzertstück in F Major for 4 Horns and Orchestra, Op. 86, I
CSO/Barenboim; Clevenger, Howell, Schweikert & Oldberg, hns.
DG B000002502
7:34
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Vaughan Williams: Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra in f minor, II
CSO/Barenboim; Jacobs, tuba
DG B000002502
4:32
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Arnold Jacobs lecture excerpt
Summit 267
1:45
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Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 (excerpt)
Gunnison Music Camp Director’s Band/Hawkins; Jacobs, tuba
Summit 267
:28
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Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra, I

Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2, finale

Mahler: Symphony No. 3

 

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