The orchestra’s highly versatile brass section has always been praised, and so it wasn’t surprising when they issued a CD of it alone, playing a collection of works by various hands. Over an hour of brass, even augmented on occasion by timpani and percussion, might seem rather much, but then it can always be listened to piecemeal. The items include Walton’s Crown Imperial and Coronation March, which sounds as if they need drum majorettes to complete the picture, and scenes from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Only three pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli (1555 to 1612) were originally written for brass alone, and they sound today like introductions to a mini-series dealing with life in the time of Shakespeare. Other composers represented are Bach, Revueltas and Percy Grainger.
All these CDs are issued on the orchestra’s own label, CSO Resound, and come in both Hybrid SACD and standard versions.
Lastly, if you want to see the CSO 60 years ago, Video Artists International (VAI) has produced a DVD of historic telecasts dating from 1954 to 1963. I say “see” because the sound quality isn’t spectacular in the 1954 items, though it improves dramatically for the later ones. First you see the legendary Fritz Reiner conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, as well as his Egmont overture and Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, all in 1954. Reiner is the star of this DVD, even when he’s standing as unmoved as a stone statue, merely raising and lowering his baton while glowering at the instrumentalists like a menacing school-teacher who’ll never forget or forgive their shortcomings.
Next comes the great Leopold Stokowski conducting his orchestral version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the famous one, originally written for organ). This is magnificent, and a reminder of the virtues of this much-maligned arrangement. Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol follow. All three were recorded in 1962. The composer Paul Hindemith concludes the DVD conducting his own Concert Music for Strings and Brass, the First Movement (only) of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture.
Of the items reviewed here, I enjoyed this DVD the most, with honors distributed equally between Reiner’s Beethoven, Stokowski’s Bach and Brahms, and Hindemith’s Bruckner. It’s all in black-and-white.
All in all, the Chicago Symphony is a famous orchestra with many very impressive achievements. Next month, all things being equal, we’ll consider Haitink’s record in conducting them, notably in the field of Mahler.