The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and WFMT have announced the extension of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra radio broadcast series launched in April of this year. The programs air under the somewhat bulky title, “From the CSO’s Archives: Maestro’s Choice—For All Music Lovers in These Difficult Times” and is broadcast on WFMT (98.7 FM) on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10 p.m. A new set of 11 programs has been added to the series that now will continue through Sep. 15.
The programs feature several conductors, including Riccardo Muti, Pierre Boulez, and Fritz Reiner, with numerous composers represented, including Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, and Shostakovich. For more information visit cso.org/radio.
You can also hear the CSO in your own home via CD or digital recordings. The CSO’s own label, CSO Resound, has a nice selection of fine recordings.
One offering is a recording of Muti and the CSO performing the Verdi Requiem in January of 2009. Also featured on the recording are soprano Barbara Frittoli, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, tenor Mario Zeffiri, bass Ildar Abdrazakov, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus (Duain Wolfe, director).
Muti marshals his forces brilliantly in this performance, which celebrates both the grandeur and the dignity Verdi infuses into the music. The drama and tension support the solemn message.
Frittoli is fervent and commanding as soprano soloist, offering a taut and penetrating performance. Very occasionally some of her high notes have a fragile quality to them, and they are deeply expressive because of that. Borodina provides a rich mezzo which is dark and pleasing. Zeffiri has a pliant, plangent tenor sound and Abdrazakov a booming bass with rich and subtle colorings.
The chorus is up to its usual high standard, creating both cushions of support as well as vivid choral singing.
There is fire in the “Dies irae” and hope in the “Libera me.” From start to finish, Verdi’s grand vision is realized with both muscle and whisper. It moves seamlessly from the boisterous to the sublime. Moments of angelic calm give way to scorching fortissimos.
I attended one of the three live performances which are the basis of this recording. It was the first concert I attended after the death of my Mother and even now, over a decade later, I remember that night as one of musical revelation and comfort. This is a recording I will treasure the rest of my life.
“Italian Masterworks” on CSO Resound also features Muti, the CSO, and the chorus. The Overture to Verdi’s “Nabucco” is detailed and captivating. That opera’s “Gli arredi festivi” has gorgeous playing from the harp and concludes with sound invoking shining light.
“Patria oppressa!” from MacBeth starts with engaging brass and provides the chorus a large canvas on which to make their art. The Intermezzo from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” is laced with yearning. Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” Intermezzo is bursting with pent up emotion.
The largest element on the recording is the Prologue to Boito’s “Mefistofele.” Bass Riccardo Zanellato is an able soloist and the interplay between him and the chorus is deftly directed by Muti’s steady hand.
CSO Resound also has an utterly fantastic recording of “Anthology of Fantastic Zoology,” a new work by Mason Bates, who served as Mead composer-in-residence at the CSO for five years. The new work by Bates is dedicated to Muti and the CSO. This young American composer is known for his imaginative use of electronics in his compositions, but this work could be seen as more traditional as it has none of that.
“Anthology of Fantastic Zoology” is witty and whimsical and is based on the Jorge Luis Borges’s work of the same name. Bates proves himself a musical storyteller of the first order with this set of charming and imaginative vignettes.
Stories of the fantastic creatures are framed by musical interludes representing times of day, such as twilight, dusk, and midnight. These sections of the work are both magical and mystical, creating a sonic atmosphere perfect for the strange and unusual beasts Borges and now Bates write about.
There is energetic whimsy in the music of the Sprite, complete with underlying mischief. The A Bao A Qu has brassy music with exotic zing. The Nymphs are light and airy, and you can feel the last of the day’s warm sun darting amongst them. There is agitation and a strong drive for the depiction of the Gryphon. Sirens are drawn first with music creating a sense of serenity and peace. It then becomes slyly seductive with buoyant energy emerging near the end. The Zaratan has an otherworldly sound.
This music immediately grabs you and takes you on a marvelous journey of imagination. It is highly recommended.
Visit cso.org to learn more about CSO Resound recordings and to purchase them. These recordings are also available in digital format from a variety of platforms, including Apple Music and Amazon.