C1632. FRITZ REINER Cond. Chicago Orch.: 'The Great' Symphony #9 in C (Schubert), Live Performance, 19 Dec., 1957, Orchestra Hall, Chicago [NB: At about 9:01 into the second movement there is a dropout, actually on the original recording. At about 7:08 of Track 5 (3rd movement) the sound level slowly drops, and then is slowly faded back up so that by 7:50 it seems back at its correct level]; Irmelin - Prelude for Orchestra (Delius), Broadcast Performance, 10 Feb., 1954, WGN-TV Studios; Francesca da Rimini in e (Tschaikowsky), Broadcast Performance, 4 Nov., 1953, WGN-TV Studios. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-607. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“The two major works on this disc are new additions to the Reiner discography, and the third (the IRMELIN prelude) was issued previously only by the Chicago Symphony, available for fund-raising purposes. Clearly the addition of works as important as FRANCESCA DA RIMINI and Schubert’s ‘Great’ C Major Symphony to the available recordings by one of the most important conductors of the 20th century is an event of significance, and we should be grateful to St. Laurent Studio, and to Norbeck, Peters & Ford, the label’s sales outlet (www.norpete.com) for this release.
Importance is one thing, but the more important issue for most of us, is whether the disc provides musical satisfaction. It does. If you are a collector who only look for ‘the best’ recording of any work, this release is probably not for you. But if you recognize that there can be no single ‘best’ interpretation of any piece of music, and you want to hear the very personal take on these works by a conductor of unquestioned eminence, then this disc is virtually self-recommending.
The Delius prelude will surprise many, because Fritz Reiner was not known as a conductor whose strongest attributes included gentle lyricism. In fact, he could always produce such an effect (listen to the slow sections of his Strauss tone poems), and he was also respected for the great care he took with issues of instrumental balance and color. The result in this IRMELIN excerpt is a performance that flows beautifully, with just a hint more rhythmic spine than many.
At 20:58, Reiner’s FRANCESCA DA RIMINI is the third fastest among the 15 in my collection. Only Albert Coates and John Barbirolli, recorded in 1924 and 1938 respectively, are faster. The remaining recordings begin at 23:04 (Igor Markevitch’s Philips effort) and extend to 27:42 (Bernstein’s 1989 DG recording). Reiner’s vast operatic experience shows in the flexibility and theatricality of this performance, and despite the fast tempos, nothing sounds rushed. The crisp playing of the orchestra (somewhat reduced in size because of space the limitations of the WGN-TV studio) is almost jaw-dropping. The lyrical interludes are supple and lovely. The dry TV sound, too closely miked, is a drawback, although for a first choice I recommend Markevitch’s hair-raising DG recording with the Lamoureux Concerts Orchestra, one of that conductors finest recorded performances. Still, Reiner’s reading is very dramatic and sufficiently different to be of interest.
Most importantly, there is Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, a staple of the repertoire that Reiner never recorded for RCA. This performance had languished in the CSO Archives since 1957, when it was broadcast live on WBAI radio in New York. The CSO trustees permitted live broadcasts of the 1957–58 season on that station but refused to permit them in Chicago for fear it would hurt attendance. A special phone line was set up from city to city to enable these transmissions. Subsequently, much of the material was issued by the CSO either in their centennial box set of 12 CDs, their turn-of-the-millennium set of 10 CDs, or as individual releases in conjunction with a fund-raising radio marathon produced on WFMT.
Full acknowledgement: during those years I was President of the CSO and oversaw those releases. I put together a committee that included Norman Pellegrini and Don Tait from WFMT, Gerald Stein (a very knowledgeable music lover in Chicago), Martha Gilmer the CSO’s Artistic Administrator, and Gary Stucka (a CSO cellist with a passion for historic recordings), and we went through the recorded archives each year to determine which performances we would release. This Schubert Ninth was never chosen for one very specific technical reason: a complete drop-out to silence from 9:01 to 9:04 in the second movement. We felt that it was jarring, and we always had something else we preferred. There is also a second problem in the original, a drop in volume at 7:08 in the third movement, after which the volume slowly fades back up until it reaches the correct level again at about 7:50. It is worth noting that Norbeck, Peters & Ford makes a point of mentioning these flaws in their listing.
But now that virtually every note of Reiner’s CSO career has been released in one form or another, one is grateful to St. Laurent for making this Schubert Ninth available, warts and all. The orchestral playing is glorious, proving that the CSO was performing at the highest international level during the middle of Reiner’s tenure. First oboe Ray Still is uniquely beautiful in the slow movement, and the orchestra’s overall energy and precision are qualities that provoke admiration still. Reiner was famous for rarely smiling (the photo on the back of the insert makes that clear), and one can imagine a Schubert ‘Great’ with more geniality and warmth. This is Schubert given with the strength and gravitas that one would apply to Beethoven. There is, however, nothing wrong-headed about such an approach, especially when the performance offers this remarkable degree of concentration and commitment. One interpretive oddity is the extremely slow tempo Reiner takes for the Trio section of the third movement, but he makes it work as dramatic contrast. The finale is rendered with unusual thrust and intensity.
St. Laurent Studio’s usual high level of sound restoration is in evidence here. The rich, warm sound of the old Orchestra Hall, extremely well captured by the original engineer’s mike placement, is faithfully reproduced in the Schubert. The dry WGN-TV studio sound is given as much warmth as possible. For the many fans of Fritz Reiner, this release is of enormous importance.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Fritz Reiner was a legend among conductors. Universally admired for his music-making, widely disliked for his aggressive and exacting temperament, and survived by a legacy of definitive recorded performances, he was largely responsible for the artistic ascendancy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and exerted considerable influence on generations of musicians.
Born in Budapest in 1888, he studied piano with his mother and, at the age of 15, entered the Franz Liszt Academy -- an institution that also boasts Bela Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Georg Solti and Antal Dorati as graduates. Reiner gained conducting experience at a number of regional opera houses before eventually returning to Budapest in 1911 to serve at the city's Volksoper, where his reputation as a conductor of special abilities finally emerged. In 1914 Reiner accepted a position at the Dresden Court Opera, where he formed a fortuitous relationship with both the conductor Arthur Nikisch and the composer Richard Strauss; Reiner would eventually give the German premier of Strauss' DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, and would remain a devoted interpreter of the composer's works throughout his career. The economic chaos and emergent anti-Semitism that followed the First World War made Reiner anxious to leave Europe, and an invitation (in 1921) to become the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra provided just the right opportunity. From that point onward, Reiner's career was firmly rooted in the United States, where he became a citizen in 1928.
After resigning his post at Cincinnati Reiner became a professor of conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his students included both the young Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss; Bernstein, in particular, credited Reiner with a great deal of influence in his development. In 1938 he became the director of the Pittsburgh Symphony -- one of several positions that established Reiner as a fine builder of orchestras, with a talent for steering ensembles toward new levels of quality and success. A number of Reiner's well-known recordings stem from his tenure there. Guest appearances during his Pittsburgh years include those at Covent Garden and the San Francisco Symphony. From Pittsburgh he moved to the Metropolitan opera, where he remained on the conductor roster until 1953; his advocacy of Strauss' operas was especially strong there, and his performances of SALOME and ELEKTRA number among the most memorable evenings in the Met's history.
1953 was a watershed year for Reiner, since it was then that he assumed the directorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This was to become his signature partnership, and the position that would establish his lasting legacy. His relationship with the orchestra was never a smooth one -- he was known for hostility and impatience in rehearsal, and for firing musicians for mistakes in concerts -- but he undeniably raised the ensemble from its status as a good American orchestra to that of one of the finest in the world. Unlike a number of other prominent conductors who excelled in narrow corners of the musical canon, Reiner maintained his excellent standards and clarifying precision throughout an especially broad repertory that crossed boundaries of nationality and style. He was as renowned for his performances of new works, such as Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra -- a piece that Reiner himself commissioned from the dying composer -- and Alan Hovhaness' MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAIN as he was for his Mahler, Strauss and Haydn. His tenure in Chicago also resulted in what was then an unprecedented volume of fine recordings, some of which still remain as favorites, despite the [purported] improved fidelity of modern competitors. Reiner resigned from Chicago in 1962 (after only nine seasons), and died the following year of heart failure.”
- Allen Schrott, allmusic.com