My Favorite CSO: Michael Manning

Michael Manning, manager of audio media and operations for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, in Chicago's Jackson Park in April 2021

Mel Shu

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's commercial recording legacy began on May 1, 1916, when second music director Frederick Stock led the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company. The Orchestra has since amassed an extraordinary, award-winning discography on a number of labels — including Angel, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, London/Decca, RCA, Sony, Teldec, Victor and others — continuing with releases on the in-house label CSO Resound under tenth music director Riccardo Muti. For My Favorite CSO, we asked members of the Chicago Symphony family for their favorite recordings (and a few honorable mentions) from the Orchestra's discography.

Michael Manning joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s administrative staff in 2018 as manager of audio media and operations. He is the label manager of CSO Resound, associate producer of the Orchestra's nationally syndicated radio series and production coordinator for CSO Sessions. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Manning earned a bachelor's degree in music history and theory, along with a certificate in performance, from Princeton University. An active musician, he is a chorister in the Marion Consort, the Saint Cecilia Choir at Saint John Cantius Church and with the Schola Cantorum at Saint Michael's Church in Old Town.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 13 in B-flat Minor, Op. 114 (Babi Yar)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2018 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
Alexey Tikhomirov bass
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
2020 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Recording–Classical
"This recording is taken from Maestro Riccardo Muti’s 2018-19 season-opening concerts in Orchestra Hall, which were the first I enjoyed from the perspective of a CSOA employee. Even after weeks of production meetings, nothing could have prepared me for the visceral experience of attending the concert. As the symphony began, the music lowered me into the crags of Babi Yar, a ravine outside Kiev, Ukraine, where German occupiers murdered 33,771 Jews in September 1941 and where many thousands of others died later. I vividly remember the chills as the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus recited the first lines of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem Babi Yar. Later, when it came time to plan the next CSO Resound release, I learned of the work's significance to Maestro Muti, who conducted the Western European premiere in 1970, after officials in the Soviet Union censored it. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, I returned to this recording often; its weighty subject matter helped me understand the gravity of the events happening before my eyes. In March 2021, as the U.S. vaccination effort started to gain a foothold, Charlie Post, David Frost and Silas Brown received the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album–Classical for their work on the recording. I felt so grateful to have played a role in the release. From 2018 until now, I have invested so much deep personal meaning into this recording, and it will always have a place in my collection.”

POULENC Gloria and RAVEL Daphnis and Chloe
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2007 for CSO Resound
Bernard Haitink conductor
Jessica Rivera soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
As a singer, I would jump at the chance to perform Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe before any other work. The score calls for a 'wordless chorus,' which Ravel uses to great effect as another orchestral instrument — a shimmering 'human organ,' if you will. Singers seldom have a chance, outside of the practice room, to dispense with words and focus solely on the production of pure human sound. I encourage anyone to go for a walk along the Chicago lakefront while listening to part 3, just as dawn is breaking. You can thank me later!

“Poulenc’s Gloria was the first piece I ever heard by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concert, in a performance conducted by Alain Altinoglu in October 2017. I had moved to Chicago two months earlier for a different job and attended as the guest of a fellow chorister at Saint John Cantius. Having performed Gloria in college, I know firsthand how challenging Poulenc’s jazz-like harmonies are for both singers and instrumentalists. I remember the sense of awe as I saw the full Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus before me onstage, and the performance took my breath away. Whenever I listen to this recording, I relive some of that experience.”

HAYDN The Creation
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1981 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Norma Burrowes soprano
Sylvia Greenberg soprano
Rüdiger Wohlers tenor
Siegmund Nimsgern bass-baritone
James Morris bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
“Oratorio as a genre is close to my heart. These musical dramas, unencumbered by the limits of the stage, can reckon with stories that extend far beyond the realm of human experience, such as the story of creation itself. However, unlike many oratorios conceived for intimate performances in the noble courts of Europe, Haydn’s Creation is truly immense in scale. I appreciate this recording for taking immensity to the nth degree. The grand chorale 'Vollendet ist das grosse Werk' (The great work is complete) is a chance to hear the Orchestra and Chorus at full sail. In fact, I used this track to test a pair of new speakers I recently purchased. After the passing of Lady Valerie Solti earlier this year, I’ve heard my colleagues recount stories from the Solti era. While I sadly never heard the CSO with Sir Georg Solti at the helm, I am grateful recordings like this one exist, and I can hear the jubilant energy pervading Orchestra Hall.”

THOMAS . . . words of the sea . . .
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1996 for WFMT, released by ARTCD
Pierre Boulez conductor
“When I interview guest conductors and soloists for CSOradio, I always ask them what makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra special. The answer I hear most often is that each musician plays with a chamber musician's attention to detail. Commissioned and premiered in 1996, . . . words of the sea . . . by Augusta Read Thomas (just before she was named our third composer-in-residence) is a clear demonstration of this. My favorite part is the bleak fourth movement, where the spare orchestration makes it clear to my ear that each note has precise vibrato and dynamics (what I’ve always called messa di voce, but I am sure there’s a more proper technical term for it). The effect is that each individual note has a direction, and, when combined into phrases, the effect of these individual notes is magnified. The other pieces on this recording, which are performed by the MusicNOW Ensemble, also demonstrate this effect. It is such a treat to listen to Pierre Boulez's interpretation on this recording. His attention to detail and regard for contemporary repertoire make the music come alive.”

BARTÓK Bluebeard's Castle
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1993 for Deutsche Grammophon
Pierre Boulez conductor
Jessye Norman soprano
László Polgár bass
Nicholas Simon narrator
1998 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording
“It is no surprise that this recording won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. Even without staging, I can imagine Judith (sung by Jessye Norman) opening the fateful seven doors in Bluebeard’s castle, as I hear the orchestral explosions indicating what lies behind them. I was fortunate to see a fully staged version of Bluebeard’s Castle at the Metropolitan Opera in 2015. Still, I return to this recording. I appreciate that it was a concert version, so the vocal soloists were able devote all of their pathos to the music, as opposed to acting. The CSO plays with such power and precision, adding a magnitude to the work that I didn’t experience at the Met. In addition, I appreciate that this recording features the spoken prologue in which a narrator asks the listener to imagine the events of the opera in the real world. The orchestral colors produced by the CSO kick my imagination into high gear every time.”

A few honorable mentions:


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